The imaginary country: The Soviet Union in British public discourse, 1929-1943
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
For historians of twentieth-century British affairs, the decade of the 1930s is very significant. It was marked not only by a devastating economic crisis at the outset, but also by the rise of fascism in Europe and the onset of the Second World War at its close. These issues were problematic in themselves, but Britain’s response to them was complicated still further by the deep divisions between the Left and the Right over socialism and over the Soviet Union. The presence of the USSR in the East and its influence in Britain loomed over the internal debates that took place, affecting British responses to difficult situations in drastic and far-reaching ways. People of both anti-Soviet and pro-Soviet persuasions were forced to account for events that did not tally with their most strongly held beliefs, hopes or fears.
This dissertation explores the ways in which British people of a variety of political leanings publicly processed and coped with the role of the Soviet Union in these debates. Using a range of sources including contemporary newspapers, books and pamphlets, I will trace the evolution of attitudes to the Soviet Union from 1929, the first year of the economic crisis, up until 1943, the high point of the Anglo-Soviet wartime alliance. My analysis will show how people with fundamentally different belief systems mirrored each other in their responses to intellectual challenges, and how interactions between different groups sustained or exaggerated each group’s response to the Soviet Union. I will also critique the analyses of some historians who have limited the parameters of their studies to take in only single groups or single events, and in so doing have become unfairly critical of individuals who struggled to process a large number of difficult and confusing events.