Common past: American “travel” in the Russian revolution

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In the early XX century formed the way Americans think about involvement in the modernization of Russia and every Russian revolution caused in the United States a new cycle of hopes and disappointments

RBC together with the Free historical society continues a series of publications about the main events that became a turning point in our common history — the history of Russia. Column published in the series dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution.

The Americans could not remain indifferent to the revolutions outside the United States, since initially saw it as our task to show the world a model of an ideal political structure that emerged in the course the perfect kind of revolution. In an unsuccessful revolutionary experiences of other peoples of the United States found a strong confirmation of its uniqueness and its right to leadership. France has not passed this test first at the end of the XVIII century and then it failed again in 1848 and 1870-1871 years. Latin Americans in the early nineteenth century generally confirmed the worst fears of its Northern neighbors. In the early twentieth century it was the turn of Russian, and on a par with Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Chinese in the third revolutionary wave.

The first revolution

American journey (real and virtual) in the Russian revolution begins in the years 1905-1907. It was then in the United States laid the vision of the revolution which, in the opinion of Americans was necessary to the Russian society for political updates and progress on the path of progress. And it was then formed a long-term American myths about the Russian revolution (romantic and demonic), which has maintained its importance until the present time. Each time, whether the events of 1905-1907, 1917, or the beginning of the 1990s, Russia was the object of another “crusade” Americans for the democratization of the world, and they experienced a kind of cycle of hope for its renewal and disappointments in connection with the next stage of its modernization.

In 1905, the American society experienced first fascination with the Russian revolution that begins in the late nineteenth century within the movement of friends of Russian freedom. It arose thanks to the efforts of Russian political émigrés in the USA and speeches of the liberal journalist George Kennan, who had returned from a trip to Siberia and told the West about the punitive system of autocracy.

Perceptions of Russia officially-reaction and people’s revolutionary becoming two parallel realities in the representations of American observers after Bloody Sunday in January 1905. A romantic image of the Russian people, breaking the shackles of political slavery, will continue to distinguish the perception of the Russian revolution, which was seen from the ocean traffic of the Western model. Euphoric universalism went into the background concerns about adequate education of the Russian “dark folk” and his willingness to participate in government, and the main emphasis is on the liberals, who were supposed to guide the struggle for freedom in a constructive way. In parallel, strengthened the belief in a special participation of Americans in the process of reforming Russia. The spread of such sentiments in society contributed to the ideological climate of the Progressive era in the United States (1890-1920 years) with its characteristic idea of the internationalization of American reformism, after all, carrying the ark of the liberties of other countries and peoples, the Americans kept it for himself. Publication in the press was full of analogies with the American revolution, and the Russian went to his 1776.

Caricature of 1905, dedicated to the celebration of independence Day in the United States can serve as an excellent illustration of this idea: Uncle Sam holding a torch, from which the scattered “sparks of freedom and independence”, head over to the fettered chains of man, symbolizing Russia. At the feet of the prisoner lying around wads of American dollars, and he asks, looking at the happy face of Sam: “I Wonder if I will ever be as glorious 4th of July?” In this text is expressed the Messianic impulse of Americans and their view of Russia as a “dark double” of the United States (Russian Friend), a comparison which allows to emphasize the advantage of its own model of development.

In turn, the Russian radicals and liberals, who came across the ocean, whether one of the organizers of the party of socialists-revolutionaries, the “grandmother of the Russian revolution” Catherine Catherine breshkovsky or the leader of the cadet Pavel Milyukov, regularly threw wood on the fire of the American universal liberalism and contributed to the replication of the romantic myth of the Russian revolution, which will be similar to the Us. In the end, about illusions and the euphoria of universalism turned into bitter disappointment in the outcome of the Russian revolution and its leaders.

The first time it happened in late 1905, under the influence of the growth of political terror, social unrest and the growing anarchy in the society. For the majority of Russian revolution only began at this time, for most Americans, it ended and turned into a revolt, senseless and merciless. Events in the Russian Empire demonstrated that the path of her people to freedom lies through his education, because ignorance turns into “freedom on-Russki” as depicted in the cartoon of 1906. So in the Wake of disappointment was the rejection of the romantic image of the Russian people, and the first place there were arguments about the immutability of the Russian national character, about the revolution in Russian as a movement in a circle from bondage to freedom.

As the transformation of the First Russian revolution, from the political to the social will only increase the enthusiasm of the American left (socialists of various shades to anarchists), who perceived it as a unique phenomenon and recognize the universality of its social message to mankind. Only in this case Russia was allowed by the Magisterium, not the discipleship to US, as the Russian revolutionary experience was to contribute to the revival of American socialism. This tradition will continue later, when the Bolshevik revolution would give impetus to the development of socialism and communism in the United States. However, the paradox is that many American radicals, inspired social revolution in the years 1905-1907, having become acquainted with the realities of the socialist revolution of 1917 and its consequences, will be disappointed not only in the Russian revolution, but also within revolutionary socialism itself.

From February to October

Another fascination with the Russian revolution in the United States comes after the overthrow of tsarism in February 1917. At this time, the romanticizing of the Russian revolution was inscribed in the universal “crusade,” the campaign for peace and democracy, declared Woodrow Wilson in April 1917 as justification, the United States entered the First world war. Since then, the aspiration to remake Russia in the image and likeness of the United States and the realization by the Americans of their of belonging the struggle for its renewal be an important component of U.S. foreign policy. Special contribution to the consolidation and replication of these ideas in American society makes political caricaturistic as, for example, this may publish in Life magazine.

One of the main factors that lead to the attitude of the Wilson administration to the events in revolutionary Russia, was the desire to keep her in the war. This guarantee gave the Provisional government, which the United States recognized the first, but did not give the Bolsheviks. So sober enough the report of the mission of Senator Elijah root, sent in June 1917 to assess the real situation in Russia, presented to the society in a mild form, in order to preserve hope for the country out of the chaos into which she was plunged. Ruth himself frankly admitted to Wilson that the interim government is the only hope to save Russia from a separate peace, but he does not believe in a successful outcome. The propaganda war against the Bolsheviks and a separate peace on the territory of Russia, the United States lost to Germany, almost before he could begin.

In 1917, the Americans found themselves hostages of their own ideas about the Russian revolution. Trotsky and Lenin in the eyes of the American friends of Russian freedom seemed impostors who exploited the fruits of the struggle of the liberals like Miliukov and “moderate socialists”-like steppe peoples-or Krawczynski Catherine breshkovsky. When the Bolsheviks seized and miraculously retained the power, in the United States launched a campaign to discredit the Bolshevik regime as absolutely alien to Russian society and to interfere with his natural Americanization, and many did so with the same, if not greater zeal with which they condemned the autocracy.

In 1917, images of Russia will be constructed by techniques used in the period of the First Russian revolution, including the political caricaturistic. In the end, finally secured a long-term American myths about Russia, the liberal — universalist: the ability of the Russian people to make the revolution of the Western model and create a “United States of Russia” and about the readiness of Russian liberals to lead this revolution, democratic in nature and society’s xenophobic, retrograde government, finally, that Russia has no other fate as a progressive move in the footsteps of Western countries headed by the USA. They come to the fore in the recovery phase “of the cycle of hopes and disappointments”. Conservative pessimistic myths about doom Russia to perpetual backwardness because of nezabudnite its traditions and culture, about the authoritarian nature of its political system due to the peculiarities of national character, about the eternal “Russian-ness” and the negative consequences of the implementation of the “Russian way” to the foreign policy interests of the United States and the entire civilized community getting dominated by the phase of recession.

By November 1917, the United States was a complete rejection of the romantic image of the Russian people, “opuses vodka and freedom to excess”. Russia is once again strayed from the right path, as shown by Richard Kirby in the cartoon.

She was drowning in the whirlpool of revolution, Bolshevism and anarchy, regardless of the last hope for the American “helping hand”.

In parallel, thanks to the efforts of those American leftists who accept the Bolshevik revolution, there will be its romanticized image. For example, the October revolution turned to communism John reed, one of the few Americans who believed that her win in Russia followed the same victory in Asia and in America. But his friend Alfred Rhys Williams this revolution has not turned into a Communist, and a supporter of social justice and in whom the West called “fellow travelers” in Soviet Russia.

American phenomenology of the Russian revolution

The perception of the Russian revolutions of 1905-1907 and 1917 in American society contributed to the formation of preconceived ideas about the prospects of Russia’s modernization as a whole. Later they were integrated in American studies (think liberal-universalist scheme, Martin Malia and conservative pessimistic by Richard pipes).

After the collapse of the USSR, Russia once again became the object of reformist efforts, the United States, and Americans once again teach the lessons of Russian capitalism and democracy. In 1991, Boris Yeltsin gets such credibility, which is not received in 1917 Miliukov, and in the US there is a special expert and academic in the direction of “transitology”, oriented at clarifying the mechanisms of transition from authoritarianism to political and economic freedom. The allure of another Russian revolution of 1990-ies not only ends with another disappointment in the US, but also creates a strong basis for anti-Americanism in Putin’s Russia, because it uses the power to construct the image of the enemy and the national consolidation of the society.

On the one hand, in the United States, as in the past, there is a feeling of discomfort about the inability to attack other countries at a time when American society itself can become the object of sharp criticism and significant upgrades are needed. On the other hand, does not disappear emerged at the turn of XIX—XX centuries the belief that the struggle for freedom far beyond the US, there is an important element in maintaining democracy in your own home and the mechanism to overcome the crisis of national identity.

Sustainable American scheme of perception of the Russian revolution, no doubt, due to its logic and dynamics, rooted in the specifics of the evolution of Russia, since none of the myth cannot be sustained without the support of reality. But the unchanging repertoire of the Central images is not due to the Russian and American context (sociocultural and political), although a full palette of ideas, of course, was and still is more multicolored. This vision of the Russian “Other” through the prism of the American “Their” explains repetitive fluctuations from euphoria of liberal universalism during the period of inspiration of the Russian revolution to the myth of the “eternal Russia” and the revolution in Russian in the period of disappointment in her results. That’s why the “journey” of Americans in the Russian revolution is not only, and maybe not so much the story itself as about the phenomenon as evidence of what can be legitimately called the American phenomenology of the Russian revolution.

The authors ‘ point of view, articles which are published in the section “Opinions” may not coincide with ideas of editorial.