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Soviet Latin Americanists: The Generation of Knowledge as a

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Austin Yost

on 3 December 2013

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Transcript of Soviet Latin Americanists: The Generation of Knowledge as a

Cuba Factor
US Latin Americanists sometimes jokingly refer to themselves as "bastard children of Fidel". his is because widespread federal funding of Latin American Studies programs at major universities began as a response to the Cuban Revolution. I argue that a similar phenomenon took place on a more limited scale in the USSR.
Diverse Audiences
So far in my research I have found some evidence that, while some of the published literature generated by Soviet scholars was both diverse and high quality, much of what was published in more widely read papers like Pravda simply reiterated hollow pledges of international socialist brotherhood.
First Specialists
What were the first resources the Soviets turned to for information on the previously alien field of Latin American Studies? If there were any existing Soviet experts or writers on that topic, who were they and what was their background?
Soviet Latin Americanists: The Generation of Knowledge as a Response to Strategic Opportunity
The Establishment of Latin American Studies in the USSR
Broader Implications
A strange yet powerful link between superpower geopolitics and domestic academia is a dynamic which dominated Soviet global studies. Similar concerns govern much modern-day academic activity, in the US, the PRC, and elsewhere. By understanding how knowledge served empire then, we can better evaluate how similar, contemporary programs function.
MOPR
A communist version of the Red Cross established by Comintern. Participation in MOPR programs in countries like Mexico and Argentina exposed young, well-connected Soviets to Latin American culture and Spanish language. Ioseph Grigulevich, the USSR's leading expert on the Catholic Church and Latin American tribal religions, got his start working for MOPR in Buenos Aires.
Mexico
Mexico was one of the first nations to establish diplomatic ties with the USSR. The Mexican Revolution predated the Russian Revolution by seven years, and Mexican delegates attended the Second Comintern. As such, much of the pre-Castro Soviet scholarship focuses on Mexico.
Romania
At least one noted Soviet Latin Americanist began his academic career as an expert on Romania. When the end of Stalinism heralded an expansion of CPSU interest in the Third World, Romanian experts possessed much needed faculty for Romance languages.
Spanish Civil War
Several early Latin Americanists were sent to Spain to aid the Republicans long before they began their career as academics. Grigulevich was deployed as an intelligence operative.
Kiva Maidanik
Kiva Maidanik, perhaps the most famous Soviet Latin Americanist, began as an expert on labor struggles in developed countries. After Stalin's "anti-cosmopolitanism" campaign was discontinued by Khruschev, Maidanik traveled to Cuba in 1963 and met with Che Guevara.
Ideological Plurality
The field of Latin American Studies evolved over time to include many different points of view regarding how to approach the military governments, liberal reformers and resistance movements of Latin America. Some scholars advocated a policy of accomodation towards the local bourgeois political parties, while others maintained a hardline Marxist stance.
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