Origins of the Stalinist Superiority Complex: Western Intellectuals Inside the USSR Print

Michael David-Fox

Origins of the Stalinist Superiority Complex: Western Intellectuals Inside the USSR

October 25, 2004

Abstract

This paper explores one little examined shift within Soviet system that can be traced through the reception of Western visitors to the USSR during the 1920s-1930s. During the 1920s, even as restrictions on coveted Western contacts were installed, the new regime assumed it had much to learn from advanced Western modernity; by the Stalinist 1930s, Soviet culture was declared superior in all respects and anti-foreign terror accompanied the purges. The paper traces the dynamics of this transformation through the Soviet tours of American writer Theodore Dreiser in 1928-29, a group of right-wing German intellectuals in 1932, and French fellow-traveler Romain Rolland in 1935. A transnational approach based on new archival materials, it argues, shows how the interwar "pilgrimage to Russia" was about more than just Soviet manipulation and Western utopianism; it was also an episode of intense mutual appraisal in which shifting Western and Soviet assertions of superiority and inferiority clashed.