Lenin, Putin and The Occupy Wall Street Movement

7 May

In January 2012 as the world was debating the international “Occupy” movement, conservative pundit and New Republic contributing editor James Kirchick began his diatribe against the movement in the journal World Affairs with the following comparison:

Viewing the Occupy Wall Street movement from post-Communist Europe, I can’t stop thinking of October 1917.  This date, when the Bolsheviks seized power from the Russian Provisional Government and set in place a Communist dictatorship that would last for more than seven decades…

While Kirchick’s article is riddled with cherry-picked negative incidents- a similar method that the left used for Tea Party critiques- his first and most urgent comparison is with the Bolsheviks.  Thus, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, a term that seems obsolete still carries it’s past baggage for some people. Furthermore, framing reactions to the current economic recession through the lens of capitalism versus communism is not just a right-wing scare tactic, but actually began almost immediately in the former home of Bolshevism, the Russian Federation.

In fact, Pravda (yes it still exists) and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) were quick to illustrate the comparisons with the Bolshevik Revolution during the first few months of the economic crisis.  On 22 January 2009, the front page of Pravda featured an article titled “On the Crisis.”  Sure enough, right under the headline Lenin leads the October Revolution in his proletarian workers’ cap.  The text simply states that unemployed workers in Putin’s Russian (unemployment has reach nearly 20% in some areas) are ripe for communist revolution and calls on all concerned to attend a communist rally that was held on January 31 in Moscow.  Further down the page, a picture of pre-revolutionary Russian workers stands side by side with an image of currently unemployed Muscovites to underline the point.  In addition, the newspaper includes a flyer for the demonstration that prominently displays the clenched fists of workers.

While this comparison is fascinating to historians of Bolshevism, communism and the Soviet Union, the actual threat of a communist revolution in Putin’s Russia does not seem serious.  Communist party candidates in Russia do usually receive between 15 to 25 percent of the vote in parliamentary and presidential elections, but their constituency consists largely of older Russians who were left destitute by the free market shock therapy and privatization of the 1990’s.  Ironically for both Pravda and Kirchick, Occupy Wall Street’s Russian incarnation did not hail a new Bolshevik Revolution, but rapidly turned into an anti-Putin movement. Drawing on the examples of both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street ,  Occupy Moscow and related groups continue to protest the undeniable political corruption and constriction of civil society under Putin.  Furthermore, these protests have not been met with condemnation, but considerable admiration from both the left and right in the West who all dread Putin’s return to the Russian presidency.

Further Reading:

Black, Phil. “Putin Returns as Russia’s President Amid Protests.” CNN, 7 May 2012.  Online at: http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/07/world/europe/russia-putin/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

Kirchick, James. “Over There: The Occupiers, Seen from Europe.” World Affairs (January/Febuarary 2012), pp., 69-76.

Korsunskaya, Darya.  “Occupy Moscow? Street Protests Over Vladimir Putin Presidency.” The Christian Science Monitor, 7 December 2011.  Online at: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2011/1207/Occupy-Moscow-Street-protests-over-Vladimir-Putin-presidency

Pravda. Moscow: Communist Party of the Russian Federation, 22 January 2009.

Parfitt, Tom. “Occupy Moscow threat by protesters over Vladimir Putin’s ‘rigged vote’ in presidential election.” The Telegraph, London, 3 March 2012. Online at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/9121373/Occupy-Moscow-threat-by-protesters-over-Vladimir-Putins-rigged-vote-in-presidential-election.html

Hitler’s Twisted Vision of a “Judeo-Bolshevik Enemy”

6 May


In The Wages of Destruction, Adam Tooze argues that Nazism can only be understood as an ideology that was the product of a “society in transition” from a relatively agricultural and “backward” country into an industrialized European power.  Hitler and the Nazis sought the ability to colonize its neighbors and alter “the European distribution of land, resources, and population” under Nazi control (196).  In order to build the Nazi empire, Hitler relied on intensive mobilization and coercion to mass all possible resources to rearm Germany and then launch overwhelming attacks on several fronts.  According to Tooze, the ideology of German racial superiority and the autarkic nature of the Nazi economy were not just wild ideas, but a serious reality that Hitler and his followers strived to achieve.  Much of Hitler’s racial angst was directed towards the Soviet Union, were both Jewish, Slavic, and other populations soon became victims of Hitler’s racial war of annihilation.

While the U.S. was a growing threat constantly on Hitler’s mind, a threat that was closer to home and immediately undermined his domination of Europe was the Soviet Union.  Moreover, Hitler specifically referred to the Soviet Union as a “ruthless Judeo-Bolshevik enemy,” thus combining his anti-Semitism with anti-Communism.  The marriage of anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism was not unique to Hitler, but he was certainly the most extreme example.  In fact, Hitler believed in an international Jewish conspiracy that bankrolled not only the “Bolshevik dictatorship,” but also Washington and London.[1]  One irony in Hitler’s abhorrence of Bolshevism was the fact that both ideologies were “undoubtedly collectivist at their core.”  After all Stalin and Hitler were both concerned with the industrialization of largely peasant societies, and both shared affinities for aspects of modernity such as Fordist production lines.  However, Hitler had no problem contrasting his vision of a superior German racial community with the “Bolshevik cult of primitivism.”[2]

Not surprisingly Hitler found plenty of time in Mein Kampf for rants against his “Judeo-Bolshevik” enemy.  Tooze eloquently summed up Hitler’s view on the Historical significance as follows:

“The essence of politics was ‘the historical struggle of nations for life’.  This had manifested itself in a succession of major clashed: Christianity and the barbarian invasion, the rise of Islam, the Reformation.  The French Revolution marked the beginning of the modern era.  Ever since, the world had been moving ‘with ever increasing speed towards a new conflict, the most extreme solution of which is Bolshevism; and the essence and goal of Bolshevism is the elimination of those strata of mankind which have hitherto provided the leadership and their replacement by worldwide Jewry’.  Compromise was impossible: ‘ A victory of Bolshevism over Germany would lead not to a Versailles Treaty, but to the final destruction , indeed to the annihilation of the German people.”[3]

With such a radical and racist view of international history, Hitler’s war plans soon had the explicit goal of preventing the “Bolshevization” of the earth by annihilating of the Jewish race in Europe.  Furthermore, Hitler not only believed in an external Bolshevik threat, but his rise to power in Germany itself was to a large extent the defeat of German communists and “agrarian Bolsheviks” who were competing with nationalists in proposing solutions to peasant discontent, land reform, and other economic ills.

In sum, the fact that he applied the term Bolshevik to both internal and external enemies is indicative of the concept’s rhetorical potency during the interwar years.  It is also worth noting that Stalin shared an equally antagonistic view of Nazi fascism and that the battle between these two ideologies was one of the major factors in the terrible methods and outcomes of the Second World War, particularly the horrific destruction of European Jewry and Slavic populations.

Further Reading:

Hirsch, Francine. Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 2005. (For great comparisons of Bolshevik and Nazi ideologies surrounding nationalism and race)

Hitler, Adolf.  “Adolf Hitler Warns the World of the Menace of Bolshevism: Main Part of the Fuhrer’s Closing Speech, 1930’s.” A book of primary sources found in the Harry Ransom Center Book Collection.  Call no. HRCMIN 18016 BW 12.

Hitler, Adolf.  Mein Kampf.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Tooze, Adam.  The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy.  New York: Penguin, 2007.

Waddington, Lorna Louise. Hitler’s Crusade: Bolshevism and the Myth of the International Jewish Conspiracy. New York: Tauris Academic Studies/ St. Martins Press, 2007.


[1] Tooze, 8-12.

[2] Ibid. 135.

[3] Ibid., 220.

Mao and the Bolsheviks on Guerrilla Warfare

29 Apr

 

Without question, Mao Zedong was one of the prominent leaders of the 20th century, and the road leading to his successful consolidation of power in the People’s Republic of China was heavily informed by the Bolshevik idea of a radically revolutionary break and guerilla warfare tactics.  Mao was a firm believer that “a potential revolutionary situation exists in any country where the government consistently fails in its obligation to ensure at least a minimally decent standard of living.”[1]  While guerilla warfare certainly existed before Bolshevism, Mao was inspired by Bolshevik anti-imperialism, revolutionary self-determination of colonized populations, and civilian participation.  Mao’s literature on military strategy drew heavily from Lenin’s On Guerilla Warfare, citing both Lenin’s political ideas and military tactics and sharing the belief that a “people’s” revolution was inevitable.  Furthermore, even Western military men viewed Lenin as key to the Marxist revolutionary trends because they thought, “only when Lenin came on the scene did guerilla warfare receive the potent political injection that was to alter its character radically.

Despite the influence, Mao did not adhere to Moscow demands calling for a proletarian revolution, but instead he believed China’s revolutionary potential was housed entirely in the peasantry.  Mao “knew and trusted the peasants, and had correctly gauged their revolutionary potential.” At least at this seemed to by the case to Samuel B. Griffith wrote the 1961 introduction to his translation of Mao’s on Guerilla warfare.[2]  While Mao’s Cultural Revolution and collectivization would later bring cause take a huge toll on the countryside, his initial use of peasants was in contrast to the distrust and disdain Lenin and especially Stalin had for the Russian peasantry.  Mao’s view was a such source of dissension between him and the Kremlin that Moscow even sanctioned the attempt by Zhou Enlai and a group known as the “28 Bolsheviks” who tried to replace Mao in 1934.  These tensions would remain and only grow into the Sino-Soviet split during the Cold War.

For revolutionaries and Western military minds alike, Lenin’s variant on Guerilla warfare was a logical extension of the notion put forth by Carl Von Clausewitz that war is politics by a different means.  Guerilla warfare had existed, as Griffith notes, long before the Bolsheviks, but Lenin and Trotsky combined tactics with a revolutionary political program that focused on winning over civilians while simultaneously engaging in combat.  As an international idea, Mao relied on the Bolshevik example, compared it with other examples, and then adjusted Lenin’s program to fit the Chinese context.  The work of both Lenin and Mao would soon become case studies for a growing body of military literature that is still vital to U.S. and world security concerns today known as counterinsurgency warfare.

Further Reading On Guerrilla Warfare, Conterinsurgency, Mao, and the Bolsheviks:

Galula, David. Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. London: Praeger Security International, 1964, 2006.

Lenin, Vladimir, I. Guerrilla Warfare published in Lenin Collected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers, Vol. 11, pp. 213-223.  Available online at

https://epress.anu.edu.au/archive/lenin/works/1906/gw/index.htm

Luk, Michael Y. L. The Origins of Chinese Bolshevism: An Ideology in the Making, 1920-1928. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Nelson, Harold W. Leon Trotsky and the Art of Insurrection, 1905-1917. Routledge, 1988.

Trotsky, Leon. The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects. Seattle: Red Letter Press, 2010.

Tse-Tung, Mao.  On Guerilla Warfare– Translated and with an Introduction by Samuel B. Griffith. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1961.


[1] Mao, 5.

[2] Ibid., 17.

A Look into the Gulag Part 1: Origins

26 Apr

A Look into the Gulag Part 1: A Review of The Unknown Gulag by Lynne Viola

Lynne Viola’s The Unknown Gulag argues that the attack on kulaks (wealthy or successful peasants) during the 1930’s and their exile to desolate special settlements was the first and most heinous of Stalin’s purges.  These internal “colonial” settlements were the foundation of the Gulag “archipelago” and set the precedent of repression in the Stalinist “empire.”  Furthermore, the attempted elimination of the “class enemy” during the colonization/collectivization of the Russian peasantry was a disaster.  The project was unrealistic, created by Stalin and his ideology, had poor planning, met resistance, and only exacerbated the socio-economic problems of the USSR.  Viola guides the reader through the full chronology of the dekulakization campaign by exploring kulak identity, repression, transport to exile, the settlement conditions, and the reckoning of officials and organizations that mobilized a war against the peasantry. The book is a masterful account of all aspects of dekulakization, with the only real flaw being that some of Viola’s more interesting points could be compared with Stalin’s other crimes to solidify her argument.

From the start, Viola’s narrative humanizes the victims by bringing accounts of the horrific deportation process to light and contrasting that reality with the madness of the propaganda and methods used against the kulaks.  By outlining the conditions in the countryside, initial orders from above, the “classifications” of kulaks, and the workings of the OGPU (Secret Police), the reader understands the archival evidence of kulak repression in the context of the inter-war USSR, as families were loaded into trains and subjected to unspeakable conditions.

The actual building of special settlements and the lack of preparation for the surviving deportees display how the Soviet Union constructed internal colonies “on the fly.”  Viola highlights the ridiculous hypocrisy of a Soviet policy that hoped to exploit labor, only to have many able-bodied people die because they had no shelter or food.  The first hand accounts and upset Soviet officials confirm the nightmarish conditions, particularly during the famine of 1932-33 and when describing the fate of kulak children.

Because Viola has so well arranged her archival research in the book, the creation and experience of the Kulak identity is cemented in reader’s mind.  This identity became part of all the victims, even the ones who came back into the Soviet mainstream through service during World War Two or repatriation after the death of Stalin.

While providing almost every detail about the events and people involved in dekulakization, one absence is a more thorough comparison with some of Stalin’s similar crimes like the deportations of various national groups. The plight of Polish women and children portrayed in Katherine Jolluck’s Identity and Exile comes to mind.  This type of comparison would allow the reader to better comprehend the evil precedent established by the initial kulak deportations and further Viola’s argument that the crime was Stalin’s first of many purges.

In sum, any student studying Stalin’s Soviet Union must read the Unknown Gulag.  This account of “dekulakization” is vital in understanding how the Bolshevik experiment with the New Economic Policy (NEP- limited market economy with communist party control) abruptly ended in the late 1920’s and Stalin launched the radical industrialization and collectivization goals of the Five Year Plans. Viola successfully humanizes the victims of Stalin’s first mass attempt at reshaping the economic and social structure of the Soviet Union.   The “other Gulag’ of dekulakized peasants and the settlements where they suffered as “state enemies” now has a fitting account that will preserve their memory.

Book Reveiwed:

Viola, Lynne, The Unknown Gulag: The Lost World of Stalin’s Special Settlements, Oxford University Press, 2007.

Further Reading for Different Perspectives on Deportation to Special Settlements:

Jolluck Katherine R., Exile and Identity: Polish Women in the Soviet Union During World War II, Pittsburg: Pittsburg    University Press, 2002.

Uehling, Greta Lynn, Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatars’ Deportation and Return, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004

Soviet Industrialization and Learning to Speak Bolshevik

25 Apr

 Soviet Industrialization and Learning to Speak Bolshevik: a Review of Magnetic Mountain by Stephen Kotkin

 

In Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization, Stephen Kotkin argues that historians must go beyond totalitarianism and address all aspects of how Stalinism and Bolshevism operated.  According to Kotkin, while Stalin is correctly labeled a tyrannical despot, we must not overlook the fact that the Soviet Union under Stalin was a unique civilization where socialism was defined as the opposite of capitalism.  This civilization was built around industrialization and the upward mobility of former peasants as they created a socialist society in the context of capitalist crisis and emerging fascism.  The author succeeds in providing a core sample of life and experiences at all levels of Stalinism while showing the great paradox of a socialist society that was aided by capitalism from the beginning, but was defined as “anti-capitalistic.”

Kotkin uses the building of the Magnitogorsk steel mill and Socialist city to highlight this new society.  This society was an internal colony based on capitalist industrial models (namely Fordist production) and promoted ideals of social welfare and progress, a new urban geography, a new social identity defined by labor, a shadow market economy, a “Bolshevik” language, and a state religion with values that were tested and reinforced by the terror.

The chronology of the city and factory construction structure the narrative and archival evidence underlines how the civilization’s elements can be observed throughout the different stages of Magnitogorsk.  Starting with barren land, the Magnitogorsk steel mill is built through a combination of Western technical assistance and Stalin’s radical will to build a global industrial power.  As the center of the book, the steel mill provides examples of Soviet “gigantism, immoderation, and refusal of realism,” all while the successes of the mill become a powerful symbol for Soviet propaganda both at home and abroad.

The “socialist city” built around the steel mill worked in tandem to construct the new Soviet identities of the workers and their families.  Everyone was part of a master planned internal colony where society was centered on the embracing of socialism and industrialization through learning to “speak” Bolshevik.  While Kotkin agrees that “there were sources of identity other than the Bolshevik crusade,” to survive in the Soviet system people began to police themselves so that “the ways of speaking about oneself became refracted through the lens of Bolshevism.”[1]  Many people believed in the socialist project, but even those who didn’t learned the state language so that they could interact with Soviet society.  Kotkin shows how this “Bolshevik” language, values, and beliefs were radically imposed from the top-down on society in a continuation of the October Revolution that began with war on the peasantry.

While some reviewers have claimed the work to be apologetic for the excesses of Stalinism, Kotkin’s impressive display of Stalinism in action is constantly contrasted with the ironies and hypocrisies of a system that eventually collapsed.   The primary resources describe the terrible conditions and absurd situations that underline the regime’s “monopoly on power and inefficiency.” Another point the author makes is how the largest social organization in Magnitogorsk was actually the market of illegal trade and most people in the new society had “petty-bourgeois” traits.  The violence of the “self-immolation of the party” during the terror helps the reader understand how the society continued to function even as many of its own are being sacrificed.

Kotkin’s work provides a crucial examination of Stalinism that reminds us of the importance of coercion in the system while allowing us to fully understand all facets of the Soviet socialist experiment.  Furthermore, the creation of the civilization is put into the context of capitalist industrialization and European enlightenment ideas that made an attempt at a state-built socialist utopia possible.  Stalinism and its reality, from state terror to social mobility, now have a fitting volume.

Book Reviewed:

Kotkin, Stephen, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

Further Reading on Soviet Industrialization:

Ellman, Michael, “Soviet Industrialization: A Remarkable Success?” Slavic Review, Vol. 63. No. 4 (Winter, 2004), pp. 841-859

Fitzpatrick, Sheila, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930’s (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Rosenberg, William G. and Siegelbaum, Lewis H. eds., Social Dimensions of Soviet Industrialization (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).

Scott, John, Behind the Ural: An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1942). A firsthand account by an American of Magnitagorsk.

An Article on Culture that Questions Kotkin’s Notion of Speaking Bolshevik:

Malte Rolf, “A Hall of Mirrors: Sovietizing Culture under Stalinism, Slavic Review, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Fall, 2009), pp. 602-630.

Primary Sources and Commentary Online:

Industrialization Debate at

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1924industry&Year=1924


[1] Kotkin, 220-221.

Bolshevik Self-Destruction: A Review of J. Arch Getty’s The Road to Terror

23 Apr

Bolshevik Self-Destruction: A Review of J. Arch Getty’s The Road to Terror

In The Road to Terror, J. Arch Getty declares that “The Great Terror” of the 1930’s was not a plan.  There was no neat line of development from Lenin to Stalin and the horrors of that decade were not inevitable consequences of socialism or Bolshevism.  Rather, the terror was a failure to control the expansive Soviet Union by any other means than arbitrary force.  Furthermore, the mixed signals coming from the top throughout the 1930’s about strengthening or weakening the repressions did not represent “hard” factions in the Politburo gradually overcoming the “soft” factions.  Instead, Getty describes the terror with the metaphor of a “twisting” road that is evolving in a “series of contradictory zigs and zags.”  Far from fractional, the road is constructed by “an amazing group consensus” among leaders on the constant need to control and maneuver around their various real and imagined enemies. In the final bloodletting of 1936-37, this road ended in an “explosion” when the party committed “Stalin-assisted suicide” of many Bolshevik stalwarts.

Getty weaves hundreds of Soviet documents together and creates the most impressive study of the Great Terror to date.  Beginning with the negative effects of collectivization and the “Trotskyist threat” in the early 1930’s, the author guides the reader through the initial repressions, the assassination of Kirov, and then each of the increasingly horrific purges that culminated in 1937 with the Red Army.  As a historical piece, the book is innovative because the narrative encompasses two interdependent groups of characters, the Bolshevik leaders and the documents.

Stalin plays a major role in the terror, but Getty highlights how he was unique in his ability to maneuver through the contradictions and keep an air of mystique by distancing himself from the Terror’s dirty work until the 1936 purges. Figures like Yezhov learn to use the situation to their advantage, only to eventually become publicly berated scapegoats and internal party sacrifices.  Despite the consensus for control and sacrifice in the party, the author underlines that there was still some protest (often suicide) and two different types of Bolsheviks.  Men like Bukharin were complicated theoreticians who understood that they had built this system and were now being martyred.  Others, like Yezhov, inherited the system and learned to play along, but never understood the big picture.

Like their creators, the individual documents tell stories with words, style, and the way they were used and abused.  Some, like those concerning Bukharin’s refusal to confess, are edited to hide ambiguities and contradictions.  Directives ordering the liquidation of enemies across the USSR are shocking because they give regional leaders exact numbers.  Orders to arrest or expel someone from the party are cold and concise, while the passionate self-defenses drag on until the accused can think of no more reasons they are innocent.  One eerie document is the ballot for the Central Committee vote to expel K. Ukhanov.  The names of Yagoda, Piatikov, and others are scratched out and you assume that those voting were wondering if their name would be crossed out next.

The blending of the Bolshevik leaders with the documents that traced their maneuvering and demise is a unique accomplishment that gives evidence to Getty’s thesis that the “road to terror” was not a straight shot, but a long and confused detour.  Stalin, Bukharin, and the party leaders where the drivers, while the documents highlight the constantly changing road signs.  The scope of this study may be narrow, but Getty displays how a proper handling of new archival evidence can overturn long held historical assumptions and arguments, especially the long-standing notion posited by historian Robert Conquest that The Great Terror was the inevitable outcome of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Book Reviewed:

J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov, The Road to Terror: Stalin and the Self-Destruction of the Bolsheviks, 1932-1939, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).

Further Reading:

Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties (Revised ed.), (London: Macmillan, 1973).

Hiroaki Kuromiya, The Voices of the Dead: Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s,  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

Norman Naimark, Stalin’s Genocides, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).

Wilsonian Versus Bolshevik Self-Determination

14 Apr

Wilsonian Versus Bolshevik Self-Determination: A Review of Erez Manela’s Wilsonian Moment

                Erez Manela argues that from autumn 1918 to spring 1919 the world experienced the “Wilsonian Moment” during which fledgling anti-colonial movements deployed Wilson’s liberal ideal of self-determination to make demands at the Paris Peace Conference.  As a victorious president making the unusual voyage to Europe, America and Wilson’s language from his “fourteen points” were projecting America’s newfound power to all corners of the world thanks to new technologies and an effective propaganda machine.  However, inspiring a world-wide anti-colonialism was unintended by Wilson, who had envisioned the idea for small European nations that had been under the control of the defeated Central Powers.  Despite Wilson’s intentions, Manela asserts that the idea of self-determinism was just too useful of an ideology for non-European nationalist leaders to ignore, and they quickly adapted the term to their individual struggles.  Furthermore, the author makes the crucial point that, although anti-colonial nationalism is often associated with Bolshevik-style revolutions, many nationalist leaders only turned to the radical left after the failure of Wilson’s liberal self-determination in liberating non-Western areas.  Finally, even though the “Wilsonian Moment” failed to achieve gradual and liberal anti-imperialist goals, Manela believes that the brief period did mark the beginning of the end for the old imperial order as the idea of self-determination fused with more radical politics.

Manela begins his study by placing Wilson in the larger international context of World War One and the Bolshevik Revolution, underlining how a combination of weakened imperial states and a still uncertain future for the Bolsheviks created the opportune window for his ideas and leadership.  Along with the global perspective, the author discusses Wilson’s own personal convictions and hypocrisies.   Manela then constructs the body of his argument by focusing on how the nationalist movements in Egypt, India, China, and Korea all perceived Wilson’s new leverage in the world and made direct pleas to the president.  While the author admits that only four examples is a fraction of the national movements that took Wilson’s words seriously, narrowing down to these four movements is necessary because Manela has the space to trace each of the disparate stories and show how all their fates converged during the “Wilsonian Moment.”  Also, the author correctly warns the reader to not assume that the nationalist leaders like Lajpat Rai and V. K. Woon were naïve to put stock in Wilson’s ideas, rather they were wisely taking advantage of the first real outlet for colonial peoples that was not entirely dominated by pro-imperialist voices.

Manela stumbled upon a subject that is an international historians dream and would make Bayly proud: a point in time when a growing international movement was created by people all over the world who used each other as “examples to project their own future” (207).  At the same time, the author’s ability to intertwine local histories as evidence reminds all historians of how micro and macro historical perspectives, to a certain extent, depend on one another.  In addition, Manela’s study raises several relevant questions.   For example, a Niall Ferguson counterfactual might ask:  what if Wilson really had paid attention to Ho Chi Minh or sided with the Chinese nationalists?  Did Wilson really have the power to pressure the British or French?  Also, how popular was the “Wilsonian moment” among colonial populations?  Manela admits that British accusation that nationalists did not represent popular sentiment was not baseless.  Even in areas that did gain independence like Czechoslovakia, historians Tara Zahra and Pieter Judson have argued that most people remained indifferent to nationalist aspirations until World War Two, at least outside of the government.  Finally, if Wilson believed that his liberal self-determination would counter more radical movements like the Bolsheviks, can we then argue that he was partially successful?  Lenin and Trotsky were disappointed when the international socialist revolution did not materialize in Europe, and the nationalists in Czechoslovakia consolidated their power while the newly independent Poles were able to defeat the Red Army in battle.

Further Reading:

Manela, Erez. The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Trotsky, Leon. Leon Trotsky on Black Nationalism and Self-Determination. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.