International Seminar Series: Exporting the Russian Revolution- Soviet Women and Cultural Outreach to “Developing Countries” During the 1950s and 1960s
Title of Presentation: Exporting the Russian Revolution: Soviet Women and Cultural Outreach to “Developing Countries” During the 1950s and 1960s
Speaker: Christine Varga-Harris, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Illinois State University
Presentation Overview: The revolutionary upheavals that shook Russia in 1917 were followed by civil war and subsequently, a compromise with Capitalism intended to enable the new Soviet regime to consolidate power and rebuild the country. Toward the end of the 1920s, reconstruction morphed into a modernization campaign geared toward “building socialism in one country.” Thus, in early Soviet Russia, the Marxist vision of worldwide proletariat rule somewhat fell by the wayside to resurface with vigor only after the Second World War. By the late 1950s, the aim of spreading Communism was recast in the policy of “peaceful coexistence” instituted by Nikita Khrushchev. Based on the conviction that countries around the globe would turn toward Communism not through violent insurrection, but rather following evidence of its superiority over Capitalism, persuading individuals around the globe of the advancements that socialism had brought to the Soviet Union became a key element of this “soft” approach to international relations. “Exporting the Revolution” will examine one strand of this strategy: cultural outreach to peoples transitioning from colonial rule in Africa and South Asia. Set against the backdrop of Cold War competition, it focuses on various activities that Soviet women undertook to show their counterparts in “developing countries” the advantages of the communist system in areas deemed of special interest to them: national revival, economic development and female liberation. The talk will also address how messages about the Revolution – conveyed through propaganda material, but also personal correspondence and touristic experiences – resonated with women in the non-aligned world.
Speaker Bio: Dr. Christine Varga-Harris is an Associate Professor of History at Illinois State University. Her book Stories of House and Home: Soviet Apartment Life during the Khrushchev Years (Cornell University Press, 2015) is a social and cultural history of Soviet housing policy of the 1950s and 1960s and its intersection with official ideology, society, and identity. Among her other publications on this subject are chapters in the volumes Divided Dreamworlds? (University of Amsterdam Press, 2012) and The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization (Routledge, 2006; 2009), and the article “Homemaking and the Aesthetic and Moral Perimeters of the Soviet Home during the Khrushchev Era” in the Journal of Social History (2008). Her current research focuses on Soviet cultural relations with non-aligned countries during the Cold War, from the perspective of gender. Specifically, it explores the interactions of the Soviet Women’s Committee – a major international organization with links to the Women’s International Democratic Federation – with women from Africa and South Asia in the sphere of activism, in the realm of its chief publication Soviet Woman, and in the travel and educational exchanges that its members both participated in and facilitated.
Series Overview: The International Seminar Series offers the Illinois State campus and Bloomington-Normal communities weekly opportunities to learn about a wide range of international topics. Guest speakers are usually experts in their fields across a range of disciplines who cover a wide array of cultural, historical, political and social topics.
Series events have become one of the most popular internationally focused events on campus and continue to draw ever-growing crowds of students, faculty and community members. Audience members are given time at each event to raise questions to enable a two-way participation and learning.
International Seminar Series events are free and open to the public, and occur every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. in the Bone Student Center. The spring 2018 series will focus on Europe in a global context.