A reflection on Professor Kirschenbaum’s lecture “Individual Lives and the Culture of International Communism”

On January 24, 2013 REEEC welcomed Soviet cultural historian Lisa Kirschenbaum from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her lecture  “Individual Lives and the Culture of International Communism” was based on her current research project tentatively entitled“A World To Win: The Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union, and Culture of International Communism,”  in which she explores international communism from the perspective of its adherents.  Before embracing this new interest, Professor Kirschenbaum investigated Soviet state policies towards children and the Soviet scripts on the siege of Leningrad in two monographs: Small Comrades: Revolutionizing Childhood in Soviet Russia, 1917-1932 (RoutledgeFalmer, 2001) and The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments (Cambridge University Press, 2006), respectively.

I learned a great deal from her lecture since my knowledge of international communists is limited.  Professor Kirschenbaum began her talk by providing some background on international communism.  She discussed how historians have focused on the topic from the Revolution of 1917, the establishment of the Comintern, and Moscow’s attempts to direct communist activity.  It is amazing to consider how worldwide the communist movement became and how much it grew since the Revolution of 1917.  Professor Kirschenbaum stated that she wanted to see into the lives of individual international communists  for a new understanding of the topic.  She then went on to discuss two main cases through which to study international communism.  In the first case, American communists studying at the Lenin School in Russia were involved in a racial conflict on a ship across the Atlantic. An incident of “white chauvinism,” Professor Kirschenbaum described how this incident prompted discussions among communist leaders who attempted to  resolve this issue.

Analyzing the arrest of an employee at “Moscow News,” a paper for English speakers in the USSR, the second case study explored the issue of international communists and their relation to the complicated issue of homosexuality.  Because of the 1934 Soviet ban on homosexuality, the staff at Moscow News, composed of a number of British homosexuals, was in a grave predicament.  In particular, Professor Kirschenbaum examined discussions which ensued after the arrest on whether communist ethics was reconcilable with homosexuality.

By looking at individuals in the international communist movement, one is able to see “daily practices” and “international dimensions,” Kirschenbaum concluded.  What I found most interesting about this lecture was that I was exposed to what communism meant for individuals who were not Russian.  It was fascinating to see how something like sexual orientation could play a role in an individual’s perceived commitment to the communist cause.  After attending this lecture, I have a better appreciation for the need to analyze and understand personal narratives in the study of history.

Ryan Eavenson is a first year MA student.  He is particularly interested in democratization, human rights, and European integration in the post-Soviet world.  His additional interests include Imperial and Soviet Russian history.  He received a AB in History/Russian and East European Studies from Lafayette College in 2010.  After completion of his MA, he hopes to find employment focusing on international affairs or continue his education.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s