Russian interest in the Ottoman Empire, its involvement in what was then the Eastern Question, antedates the revolutions of 1917 by about 150 years. In Tsarist foreign policy, throughout the nineteenth century, in the ideology of Slavophils and Panslavists the question of Constantinople and the Straits played a central, almost mystical, role. Turkey was about to disintegrate, the Hagia Sofia was at last to return to its rightful owners. The Russian mission in the Near East was the dynamic centre of Russian history; there its manifest destiny would be fulfilled. But the first world war brought not only the demise of the Ottoman Empire, it also caused the downfall of the Romanovs. With the Bolshevik revolution such imperialist ambitions were solemnly forsworn: communist Russia, the pioneer of world revolution, was to be also the friend and ally of all national liberation movements. The industrialized countries of Central and Western Europe were expected to play the leading role in the coming stage of the world revolution; the hopes of Marx and Engels had been centred in the West, and the eyes of Lenin and Trotsky were turned there too, although they did not entirely neglect Asia and the East. About a decade before the revolution they had begun to realize that there was a revolutionary potential in the East, that the colonies and the semi-colonial countries of Asia would not forever remain quiescent. Bolshevism tried to assist them in their fight; the Congress of Baku, calling on the toilers of the East to rise against foreign imperialists as well as against native capitalists and landlords, was the first important milestone in this struggle. The Soviet leaders followed with a great deal of sympathy the fight of the Turks under Kemal and the national movements in Persia and Afghanistan. Not much attention
was paid at that time to events in the Arab world. By the standards of those days, the Arabs were a faraway people; most of their countries were not yet even semi-independent. Nor was there a great deal of interest in Zionism, which at that time had just acquired a Jewish national home. Zionism, in the communist view, was an anachronistic, reactionary movement. The salvation of the downtrodden Jewish masses in theEast European ghettoes would come with the victory of world revolution. The Jewish question could not be solved in a distant country under the protection of British bayonets. Moscow and the Communist International also attacked the pan-movements of the day - Panislamism, Panarabism, Panturkism; these too were condemned as reactionary in character. Support for 'progressive' movements in the Near East involved Soviet Russia from the beginning in political and doctrinal contradictions, since they could not be expected to embrace Bolshevik ideology and practice lock, stock and barrel. Islam, for instance, still had deep roots in the East, and a frontal attack against it was obviously out of the question, despite communism's unalterable opposition to religion in general.