19 December 2016

Prof. Liebich’s New Book Presents Photos from the Boris Souvarine Collection

Boris Souvarine moved from communism, in the first years of the Soviet régime, to anti-communism by the 1930s and throughout the rest of his long life, during which he collected working notes, press clippings and documentation concerning East-West relations. These documents, which Souvarine bequeathed to the Graduate Institute’s Library, form the basis of a new Graduate Institute eBook, “From Communism to Anti-communism: Photographs from the Boris Souvarine Collection at the Graduate Institute”, edited by Andre Liebich, Honorary Professor of International History and Politics at the Institute, and Svetlana Yakimovich, responsible for the collection. They give us a new and original perspective on the period that runs from the Russian Revolution to the 1950s and allow us to better understand that era. More information with Prof. Liebich.

Why did you decide to produce this book?

Boris Souvarine’s life story covers a dramatic swathe of twentieth-century history, and the Institute’s Library is fortunate to possess part of his vast archives. We, my coeditor Svetlana Yakimovich and I, wanted to make more broadly available some of the rare and fascinating photos, clippings and posters in this collection. They cover the Russian revolutions of 1917, the most noteworthy congress of the Communist International, life throughout the USSR at the time of the “Great Upheaval”, the country’s collectivisation and industrialisation, the death of Stalin, and anti-communist propaganda during the Cold War. Colleagues throughout the world, including some of the best-known specialists of Soviet history and politics, agreed to write explanatory texts so that each image is accompanied by a commentary and bibliography.

Who was Boris Souvarine?

Boris Souvarine (1895–1984) was both one of the key founders of the French Communist Party and, later, one of its most ferocious critics. In the early 1920s he occupied high positions in Moscow in the Communist International. He then pursued the quest for an independent Marxist position, earning the opprobrium of both Left and Right. After World War II he became a vociferous anti-communist militant. Throughout the years he gained recognition as a scholar of social movements, although he had never attended a university. His most famous book, a biography of Stalin published in 1935, remains a reference work to this day and, after having been translated into numerous languages, is now being translated into Russian.

The documents come from the Boris Souvarine Collection at the Graduate Institute. How do they contribute to our knowledge of the period in question?

The images that appear in this publication comprise both mass political scenes, which include famous political figures, windows into daily life far from the centres of power, and vivid examples of the struggle between communists and anti-communists. Many of these images will be new, even to experts. Moreover, the commentaries to each image bring the images to life and provide background as well as insight. The book covers the entire career of Boris Souvarine, thus giving a complete picture of the man and his itinerary.

Are there lessons from this historical period that can help us better understand the current political evolution in Russia?

Whereas Soviet Russia would have claimed the early Souvarine, present-day Russia is interested in how he turned against the Soviet régime. At this very moment, Professor Tatiana Taimanova, from Saint Petersburg State University, is working on the Souvarine Collection here as part of a project on the cross-cultural relations between Russia and France in the 1920s and 1930s. Souvarine is a key figure among those studied in this project.

Illustration: Demonstration, Petrograd, 18 June 1917. Postcard from the Boris Souvarine Collection at the Graduate Institute, Geneva.