The Communist University and the Soviet Union’s Imagination of the “Eastern World”

This paper will examine the growing importance of the Communist University for the Toilers of the East (KUTV) between 1925 and 1938 as a cite of interaction between the founding Jewish and Arab members of the Palestinian Communist Party, as well as Arab and Kurdish members of the Lebanese-Syrian Communist Party, and the representatives of over fifty nationalities defined as “Eastern” by the Bolsheviks.  This study would help bring together hitherto separate scholarly domains by exploring the Comintern’s training of Arab communists from nations that Stalin referred to in 1925 as the “foreign East” within the context of Soviet nationalities policy and Soviet Orientalism. I will also investigate the ways in which broad intellectual circles in these lands were powerfully influenced by Soviet-Russian culture that was disseminated by the Soviet state, returning communists, and non-communist leftist intellectuals. By focusing on such linkages, interactions, and modes of cultural transmission, I endeavor to go beyond narrowly political histories of Arab communist movements as well as the large corpus of Cold War literature that uses state-scale categories of analysis and envisages Arab communists as nothing more than Soviet agents. I contend that my exploration of the cultural-political interactions between the Soviet Union and the Arab East in this period open up new avenues for further research on how the Middle East was conceived within non-European or US-centric transnational political imaginaries.