Navigating the Soviet Experiment: Travels and Writings of John Dos Passos and Edmund Wilson In Soviet Russia, 1928-1935
Year of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department or School/College
Dr. Michael Mayer
Dr. Clint Walker
Dr. Claire Arcenas
Soviet, Culture, Theater, Travel, Writers, 1930s
University of Montana
The travel accounts of Soviet Russia by John Dos Passos (1896-1970) and Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) vividly demonstrate how Western writer-travelers were drawn into Soviet cultural experiments. Only rarely was this process one of literary influence. This thesis focuses on published travel writings by Dos Passos (In All Countries, 1934) and Wilson (Travels In Two Democracies, 1936), as well as journals, letters, and essays, in terms of Soviet cultural developments both writers noted as historically significant in shaping Western views of the Soviet state, and of the methods involved in building socialism and Communism.
In the 1920s, Soviet culture emphasized the future through mass or collective production of spectacles involving the observer. This orientation paralleled Marxist teleology toward the post-revolutionary perfection of the fully Communist society. Individuals renounced former class identities and acquired new ones through labor for and participation in mass projects. In the 1930s, as reflected in the advent of Socialist Realism as an artistic doctrine, the emphasis in culture shifted to the exceptional individual, whose activities embodied the message of “socialism achieved” in official party discourse.
The popular appeal of using high artistic means to achieve a social end attracted Western writers such as Dos Passos and Wilson. Dos Passos wanted to promote a “revolutionary theater” that could appeal to a mass audience and encourage consciousness of social reform. Wilson sought to glimpse in the Soviet present the material result of Marxist socialism.
Official Soviet agencies sought and courted close relationships with Western writers, particularly those perceived through their publications as sympathetic to socialist ideology and its cultural manifestations. Touristic and cultural bureaus directed the curiosity of writers such as Dos Passos and Wilson toward specific Soviet achievements, and also attempted to bring them into closer collaboration with political objectives by appealing to their literary/cultural interests.
Winslow, Robert Allan, "Navigating the Soviet Experiment: Travels and Writings of John Dos Passos and Edmund Wilson In Soviet Russia, 1928-1935" (2023). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 12045.
© Copyright 2023 Robert Allan Winslow