Dreiser's Russian Diary

Thomas P. Riggio, Editor, James L. West, Editor, Theodore Dreiser, Author
Thomas P. Riggio, Editor, James L. West, Editor, Theodore Dreiser, Author University of Pennsylvania Press $39.95 (297p) ISBN 978-0-8122-8091-3
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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In October 1927, Theodore Dreiser was invited to come to the U.S.S.R. to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Revolution as a guest of the state. His diary of this two-months-and-a-bit trip to Moscow (twice), Leningrad and then on to Nizhni-Novgorod, Kharkov, Rostov, Tiflis, Yalta and Odessa was held up at the Russian border, and no wonder. It starts out submissively enough, with reports of plays and factories visited, of functionaries questioned, all typed out by the American expatriate Ruth Epperson Kennell, who was Dreiser's secretary and lover while in Russia. But Dreiser's dismay over the subjugation of the individual--and the intellectual--to the masses started to sour him. By the time he returns to Moscow and interviews Nikolai Bukharin, director of the Third International, he is testier: ""Now in the street there is a street cleaner of very low intelligence. Do you mean to say that his position in society is the same as yours. (I'll die but I'll get this out of him.)"" Even greater truculence is suggested in the sections appended after the trip in his own hand. ""Mr. Hughes introduces comfort into Russia. Real flowers. The central house toilet. It makes me suggest a national toilet day for Russia."" Faced with the Depression later, Dreiser, like other American intellectuals, would praise the Soviet system. What's ironic and a little sad is that at the time of his visit, with the Red Terror and the worst famines of the '20s behind them, the NEP in swing and before either the five-year plans or Stalin's retributions were firmly established, the Soviet Union was experiencing the most humane moment of its early history. Photos. (Oct.)
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