Russia Foreign Policy, 1921-28
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
In the 1920s, as the new Soviet state temporarily retreated from the revolutionary path to socialism, the party also adopted a less ideological approach in its relations with the rest of the world. Lenin, ever the practical leader, having become convinced that socialist revolution would not break out in other countries in the near future, realized that his government required normal relations with the Western world for it to survive. Not only were good relations important to national security, but the economy also required trade with the industrial countries. Blocking Soviet attainment of these objectives were lingering suspicions about communism on the part of the Western powers and concern over foreign debts incurred by the tsarist government, which the Soviet government had unilaterally repudiated. In April 1922, the Soviet commissar of foreign affairs, Georgiy Chicherin, circumvented these difficulties by achieving an understanding with Germany, the other pariah state of Europe, in the Treaty of Rapallo. Under the treaty, Germany and Russia agreed on mutual recognition, cancellation of debt claims, normalization of trade relations, and secret cooperation in military development. Soon after concluding the treaty, the Soviet Union obtained diplomatic recognition from other major powers, beginning with Britain in February 1924. Although the United States withheld recognition until 1933, private American firms began to extend technological assistance and to develop commercial links in the 1920s.
Toward the non-Western world, the Soviet leadership limited its revolutionary activity to promoting opposition among the indigenous populations against "imperialist exploitation." The Soviet Union did pursue an active policy in China, aiding the Guomindang (Nationalist Party), a non-Marxist organization committed to reform and national sovereignty. After the triumph of the Guomindang in 1927, a debate developed among Soviet leaders concerning the future status of relations with China. Stalin wanted the Chinese Communist Party to join the Guomindang and infiltrate the government from within, while Trotsky proposed an armed communist uprising and forcible imposition of socialism. Although Stalin's plan was finally accepted, it came to naught when in 1927 the Guomindang leader Chiang Kai-shek ordered the Chinese communists massacred and Soviet advisers expelled.
Society and Culture in the 1920s
In many respects, the NEP period was a time of relative freedom and experimentation in the social and cultural life of the Soviet Union. The government tolerated a variety of trends in these fields, provided they were not overtly hostile to the regime. In art and literature, numerous schools, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated. Communist writers Maksim Gor'kiy and Vladimir Mayakovskiy were active during this time, but other authors, many of whose works were later repressed, published work lacking socialist political content (see Literature and the Arts, ch. 4). Filmmaking, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state; much of legendary cinematographer Sergey Eisenstein's best work dates from this period.
Under Commissar Anatoliy Lunacharskiy, education entered a phase of experimentation based on progressive theories of learning. At the same time, the state expanded the primary and secondary school systems and introduced night schools for working adults. The quality of higher education suffered, however, because admissions policies gave preference to entrants from the proletarian class over those with bourgeois backgrounds, regardless of qualifications.
In family life, attitudes generally became more permissive. The state legalized abortion, and it made divorce progressively easier to obtain. In general, traditional attitudes toward such institutions as marriage were subtly undermined by the party's promotion of revolutionary ideals.
Data as of July 1996
NOTE: The information regarding Russia on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Russia Foreign Policy, 1921-28 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Russia Foreign Policy, 1921-28 should be addressed to the Library of Congress.