Bolshevik Loyalties: The Russian Revolution and Revolutionaries in Japan, China, and Egypt

AHA Session 270
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Williford C (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
Steve Levine, University of Montana
Steve Levine, University of Montana

Session Abstract

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was as much a declaration of war on capitalism as it was a declaration of war on imperialism. As the prospects of communist revolutions in Europe dimmed by 1920, the center of gravity of the Russian Revolution shifted to the “East,” a fluid concept that in the Russian revolutionary thinking encompassed territories between the Middle East and Imperial Japan. Having merged with a still broader current of change, the anti-imperialist struggle, and intent on escalating such movements into a world revolution, the Russian Bolsheviks created the Third Communist International (Comintern) in March 1919, which became instrumental in establishing communist parties in Egypt, China, and Japan in 1921. By presenting specific case studies, we address the following questions: how was revolution and the formation of communist parties understood by radical activists in non-European settings? How did this understanding and their loyalties to Russian Bolshevism change over time as non-European activists translated Bolshevism into their respective national contexts? And finally, how their visions were informed by Russian Bolsheviks’ revolutionary program for the “East”?

Marilyn Levine focuses on the representative group of the Chinese Communist Youth Corps and Party, who moved from Europe to travel and study in the Soviet Union on their way back to China. Based on groundbreaking archival research and interviews, Levine examines how the group’s Euro-Soviet experience determined their understanding of the Russian Revolution. The Euro-Soviet group included the future top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and as such, Levine argues, their shared experience in the Soviet Union and personal networks influenced the nature of the CCP.

Alexander Pantsov examines the activities of Zhang Tailei (1898-1927), a co-founder of the CCP and the Chinese Socialist Youth League, and his relationship with the Comintern. Pantsov argues that because of his close contact with Russian Bolshevik ideologues Zhang Tailei became the main channel of Russian revolutionary thought to China. As the most crucial link between the Russian and Chinese Communists, Zhang Tailei deserves a more thorough investigation in order to understand the arrival of communist ideas to China.

Tatiana Linkhoeva draws attention to the early socialist reception of Russian communism in imperial Japan. Inspired by the Russian Revolution, the cohort of interwar Japanese socialist radicals advanced a new vision of Asian brotherhood and cultivated regional networks across East Asia. Linkhoeva argues that the Russian Revolution pushed the issue of conflict between loyalty to one’s nation and loyalty to a supranational community to the forefront of concerns among Japanese leftists.

Masha Kirasirova examines the life of an early Egyptian socialist Charlotte Rosenthal. Based on the Comintern’s records Kirasirova reveals the exchange of specific revolutionary ideas and practices related to the “women’s question” and gendered expectations about communist behavior in Egypt and the Soviet Union.

The panel attempts to explore the different meanings the Russian Revolution had in the non-European world, introduce and investigate new sources for interpreting the relationship between Russian and “Eastern” communists, and provide new frameworks for understanding these relations.

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