Soviet Political Prisoners and the American Left in the 1920s

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM
Centennial Ballroom H (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Tony Michels, University of Wisconsin–Madison
This paper examines the international campaign on behalf of Soviet political prisoners that burst into American public life in the 1920s. The campaign was initiated in Berlin by exiled Russian revolutionaries (Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries, and anarchists) who turned to socialists abroad with pleas for aid and calls to action.  Although they found relatively little support in Europe, the Berlin exiles met with success in the United States.   This paper argues that immigrant Jews served as conduits between the United States and Berlin by organizing speaking tours by exiled revolutionaries, disseminating little-known information obtained from dissidents stretching to remote labor camps in the Soviet Union, and spurring the creation of the International Committee for Political Prisoners.  The campaign for Soviet prisoners, this paper argues, gave rise to a unique form of left-wing anti-Communism in the U. S. maintained by the mass membership labor organizations of the Jewish working class.   This new anti-Communism, promoted by anarchists and democratic socialists, not only raised large sums of money for persecuted revolutionaries, but reconfigured the politics of the American left for decades to come.
Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>