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The new civilisation? Assessment of the Soviet Union in Britain, 1929-1941

Flewers, Paul; (2003) The new civilisation? Assessment of the Soviet Union in Britain, 1929-1941. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis is concerned with assessments of the Soviet Union that were published in Britain during 1929-41, the period in which the Soviet socio-economic formation - the command economy under the rule of a single hypercentralised party - was established, and with the impact of the Soviet experience upon intellectual and political discourse in Britain, with particular reference to the questions of economic planning and the relationship between socialism and democracy. It investigates the various analyses and conceptions of the Soviet Union produced by commentators of differing viewpoints: the traditional anti-communists' rejection of the Soviet experience; the endorsement of the Soviet regime by the pro-Soviet lobby, that is, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the fellow-travellers; the appreciation of certain aspects of Soviet society alongside a rejection of its political norms on the part of a centre ground of opinion incorporating moderate conservatives, liberals and right-wing social democrats; and the far left's ideas of Stalin's regime representing the betrayal of the October Revolution. It notes how the coincidence of the implementation of the First Five Year Plan in the Soviet Union and the economic crisis in the capitalist world following the Wall Street Crash led to a rapid popularisation of pro-Soviet sentiments in Britain, with the burgeoning pro-Soviet lobby viewing the Soviet Union as a new civilisation that was in the process of overcoming the economic and social problems affecting the West, and with the endorsement by the centre ground of Soviet policies in respect of economic planning and social measures that was predicated upon the growing feeling that similar schemes were essential to reverse the economic crisis and overcome poverty in the capitalist world. It notes how Hitler's victory in Germany in 1933 and Franco's military coup in Spain in 1936 popularised the idea that the Soviet regime was a guarantor of democracy and stability in the West, or at least a positive factor in international affairs. It notes the responses of a wide range of commentators to key events within the Soviet Union and those out with the country in which the Soviet regime was involved. These include the progress of the first three Five Year Plans, including changes in industry, agriculture and cultural, educational and welfare measures, etc; political events, including the 1936 Constitution, the show trials and the Great Terror; and international affairs, including the rise of Nazi Germany and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Spanish Civil War and the Communist International. It shows the conditional nature of pro-Soviet sentiments during the 1930s by noting their rapid decline after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939, and shows that the disenchantment of many people with the Soviet Union after 1939 was an adumbration of the prevailing anti-communist atmosphere of the Cold War, which represented the convergence of their feelings of disillusionment with the consistent rejection of the Soviet experience on the part of traditional anticommunism. The thesis concludes by declaring that the impact of the Soviet Union in Britain upon the debate over economic policy was largely catalytic, in that it accelerated and intensified the already developing sentiments in favour of state economic planning; and that its impact upon the socialist movement was largely negative, as it did much to marginalise the idea of socialism as a democratic transformational process. The thesis finally considers the marginalisation in the postwar era of the idea that was fairly commonplace in the 1930s that the Soviet leadership was no longer interested in world revolution, and was intent on coexisting with capitalism rather than trying to overthrow it.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The new civilisation? Assessment of the Soviet Union in Britain, 1929-1941
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10108834
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