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New Left Review I/73, May-June 1972

John Moran

Wittgenstein and Russia

In 1922 Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote to a friend that he was haunted by the possibility of an eventual flight to Russia. About two years later he sent the same friend some newspaper clippings of prize-winning poems by workers, urging him to preserve them. In 1937 he wrote him again that he might go to Russia. [1] Paul Engelmann, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein with a Memoir, Oxford 1967, pp. 52–3, 58–9. In the interim he had spent a short time there. G. H. von Wright, one of his literary executors, [2] With Rush Rhees and G. E. M. Anscombe (Mrs Peter Geach). writes that in 1935 Wittgenstein ‘had plans for settling in the Soviet Union. He visited the country with a friend and apparently was pleased with the visit. That nothing came of his plans was due, partly at least, to the harshening of conditions in Russia in the middle thirties.’ [3] ‘Biographical Sketch’, p. 16 in Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, London 1958, by Norman Malcolm. The sketch was first published in The Philosophical Review, 64(1955). Wolfe Mays, a former student, writes that in the early forties Wittgenstein gave the impression in his classes of being ‘distinctively apolitical, despite his desire to live in Russia’. [4] Wolfe Mays, ‘Recollections of Ludwig Wittgenstein’ in Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy, ed K. T. Fann, New York 1967, p. 82.

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