KSP on a tour of the Soviet Union with other writers.

In April 1933, Katharine was asked to speak to a group of students at the University of Western Australia on the Soviet Union. Was it a worker’s paradise or a tyrannous state? Katharine, as a communist, insisted it was the former; the economics lecturer Edward Shann noted in objection that others held a different view and they should all have an open mind.

It was one of the things which made Katharine more determined to see the Soviet Union for herself and she set off the next month, one of many Western pilgrims at the time. She wrote a series of articles on her tour of the Soviet Union, first published in the Herald newspaper and collected as a book called The Real Russia in 1934.

Katharine seemed to think that once she’d seen the Soviet Union for herself, no-one could doubt her opinion about it. But, of course, what you see depends on what you believe. Were the collective farms which not meeting their targets being reasonably pushed to be more productive or brutally punished? Were the purge trials holding people to account or were they expelling innocent people from the party? (This was a year before the executions began.)

Katharine has been accused of being deceitful about her true experience of the Soviet Union, mostly on the basis of a ‘diary’ published by Betty Roland many years later in which Katharine expressed her disillusionment to Roland. I argue Roland’s account can’t be trusted as a true guide to Katharine’s feelings at the time, as you can find out in chapter 26 of the Red Witch, ‘The Real Russia’.