How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism
In a recent lecture at the Kennan Institute, Steven Marks discussed his new book, How Russia Shaped the Modern World: From Art to Anti-Semitism, Ballet to Bolshevism. In his discussion, Marks focused on three Russian contributions to international political ideologies. He stated that Russia "provided alternatives to modern western political thought." He explained that because Russia was one of the first societies to come to grips with Westernization, anti-Western political ideologies quickly emerged. Marks noted that the ideologies he would be speaking about, namely anarchism, Bolshevism, and anti-Semitism, had an enormous impact on the modern world and "help place current anti-Western trends in context."
According to Marks, Russian anarchism was the predominant left-wing ideology before 1917. He explained that among the most prominent anarchist ideologists were Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Tolstoy. Marks noted that one branch of Russian anarchism "gave rise to modern political terrorism." He cited the use of dynamite as a weapon to assassinate and the use of the terrorist "cell structure" to escape arrest as examples of tactics that continue to be used by terrorists today. In Marks' view, Kropotkin was "one of the most significant social thinkers of modern times." Marks explained that Kropotkin's ideas of cooperatism and the Russian peasant commune were embraced with enthusiasm around the world. Marks noted that Tolstoy's writings were at one time among the most widely read works throughout the world. He also stated that Tolstoy's thoughts on non-violence had an influence on Gandhi's movement in India as well as the U.S. civil rights movement.
Marks also discussed Russian Bolshevism. He explained that the effects of Russian communism in the western world were far less significant than many people think, for instance on the development of the welfare state. In fact, Marks argued that the effects of the anti-communism movement had more of an impact throughout the world. He contended that while there was tremendous interest concerning communism among U.S. economic planners, there was very little interest in actually following the Russian economic model. Marks stated that the civil rights movement was also only marginally influenced by communist participants.
Marks explained that many of the Russian ideas of anti-Semitism come from "almost a paranoid fear of Jews within the Russian government" in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many within the Russian elite didn't understand how their world was changing and blamed Jews for the evils of capitalism and socialism. Marks noted that some of the reasons for this mistrust were that large numbers of Jews were involved in Russian revolutionary groups and because most Jews lived in urban areas and were involved in commerce. Marks stated that these differences were further compounded by old antagonisms between the Orthodox Church and Jews. He stated that out of this context emerged anti-Semitic literature including "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." This document and others like it were accepted and used by anti-Semites throughout the world, including here in the United States. Russian anti-Semitism, he argued, was another of the anti-modern political ideologies that influenced events in the twentieth-century world.
Marks concluded that there are many other and more positive examples of how Russia influenced the modern world. He reiterated that all of these influences came about "because Russia articulated a response to the changes brought into its country by the West," and countries, which later came in contact with the West, were attracted by this response.