Harry Rigby Seminar Series: Stalin and “Abroad”. Soviet Attitudes to Foreigners and the West in the Pre-War Period

Speaker: Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick, University of Sydney and University of Chicago

Stalin and his Politburo team were intensely suspicious of foreigners. This was not just on the general principle that capitalist Europe wanted to crush the upstarts who had made a revolution in Russia in 1917. It was also because the Stalin group, mainly former Bolshevik underground workers of lower-class origins, lacked the European experience and knowledge of foreign languages of their main political opponents in the 1920s, cosmopolitan former émigré intellectuals like Trotsky and Zinoviev. Members of the Stalin team rarely travelled abroad, and it was not until the Second World War that Stalin, Molotov and their Politburo colleagues had direct personal contacts with Western statesmen. Yet throughout the 1920s and ‘30s, despite their extremely busy lives, most of them plugged away at home study of English and German, part of personal self-education programs that included going to the opera and keeping up with contemporary literature and the arts. This lecture explores the unique mix of inferiority consciousness and malicious bravado that Stalin and Molotov brought to the field of international diplomacy, their suspicions of foreigners resident in the Soviet Union, and their urgent desire to impress the outside world, not only with Soviet power and resolve but also with its mastery of high culture.

Sheila Fitzpatrick is an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney and Professor Emerita of the University of Chicago. She is the author of Everyday Stalinism (2000), Tear off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (2005) and many other works on Soviet history, and co-editor with Carolyn Rasmussen of   (2008). Her most recent book, A Spy in the Archives (2013), is a memoir of life as a young historian in Moscow in the late 1960s. She is currently completing a book on Stalin’s Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics, to be co-published later in the year by Princeton University Press and Melbourne University Press.

This lecture is now available as a recording on the ABC Radio National's website.

To view the flyer for this event please see: Stalin and “Abroad”: Soviet Attitudes to Foreigners and the West in the Pre-War Period.

Date & time

Thu 13 Mar 2014, 12am


ANU Centre for European Studies, 1 Liversidge Street (Bldg 67C), Canberra


Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick, University of Sydney and University of Chicago


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