Quakers in Russia
Richenda Scott (1964)
This seminal work tells the story of why and how a number of ordinary English citizens plunged into the heart of the Russian Empire, transmuting their faith into action in a series of piecemeal experiments. At one moment the venture is pursued by reclaiming waste marshland around St. Petersburg (Daniel Wheeler) and making the first tentative trial at co-operative farming in the middle of the 19th century. At another it brings a handful of Quakers face-to-face with Peter the Great and some of his Tsar successors, to remind those autocrats that, in matters of conscience, the most powerful human writ does not run.
Quaker contact with Russia has led more recently to relief and medical work in times of famine and distress, and during the Cold War to activities in joint Anglo-American and Russian projects for study and work together.
Whilst the last chapter of Richenda Scott’s book deals comprehensively with Quaker enterprises in the East-West field, it stops just short of the Tripartite Work & Study Project of the 1960’s. The book does however contain three photos of the 1963 project at Nalchik, USSR and clearly the project fits squarely into the mainstream of Quaker initiatives with Russia stretching back 300 years.
No Cloak, No Dagger
Recent Quaker Experience in East-West encounters
(commissioned by the East West Relations Committee, Society of Friends)
John Miller (1965)
Set against the Cold War backdrop, this booklet is an analysis of recent Quaker experience in organizing contacts and projects with communist and other similar bodies in Eastern Europe. The accent is on activities for young people as both Quakers and Communists lay great stress on the role of Youth in the modern world. John Miller writes ‘The cold war is a genuine power conflict and a genuine ideological dispute about the relationship between the individual and society. But it is more than this; on both sides deep-rooted irrational fear has been harnessed, and it is this that makes the cold war more menacing, whilst at the same time provides an opportunity for ordinary people to do something to help overcome it.’
The Tripartite Work & Study project features large in John Miller’s review. It is held up as a ‘role model’ in terms of its Self Government, which is a strong unifying factor. Where maximum organisation is delegated to the participants, their joint responsibility and ownership becomes a common goal, so group loyalty can start to counterbalance national loyalties.
As for the purpose of ‘East-West’ work? Miller says ‘perhaps it would be best to label the aim as being ‘educational’ – and political only in the sense that education always has some ultimate political effect. The effect of this work is designed to have a very limited one on the public opinion of both sides: to provide an opportunity for an increasing number of young people to confront and make sense of one of the major dilemmas of our time, and see what is myth and what reality in their picture of the other side, and of their own. This may have an immediate political importance if these people move on to positions of responsibility.
But in the long run all political action is influenced by ideas and fears abroad in society, and the Soviet Union is no exception, even if ‘public opinion’ there means opinion within an intellectual and party elite.’