The Search for a Socialist El Dorado

Finnish Immigration from the United States and Canada to Soviet Karelia in the 1930s

Alexey Golubev (Author), Irina Takala (Author)


In the 1930s, more than six thousand Finns emigrated from Canada and the United States to Soviet Karelia, a region in the Soviet Union where Finnish Communist émigrés were building a society to implement their ideals of a socialist Finland. Educated and skilled, North American Finns were regarded by Soviet authorities as agents of revolutionary transformation who would modernize the Soviet Karelian economy and enlighten its society. North American immigrants, indeed, became active participants in the socialist colonization agenda and created a unique culture based on the Finnish language and revolutionary aspirations of their generation. But just as this new culture began to influence the cultural transformation of Soviet Karelian society, the immigrant communities became the targets of the witch-hunting campaigns of the late 1930s, were victimized by the same regime that had recruited them for socialist building, and were finally destroyed in the course of the Second World War.

The Search for a Socialist El Dorado is the first comprehensive account in English of this fascinating story. Using a vast body of sources from archives in Petrozavodsk and Moscow, Russian- and Finnish-language press, and oral history interviews, Alexey Golubev and Irina Takala present an in-depth exploration of the causes and consequences of the “Karelian fever” that swept through the North American Finnish community, and bring to light a heretofore neglected area of research in Soviet and immigration history.


"Provides a masterful account of the North American immigrant experience in Karelia. Its authors show a deep understanding of the topic, skillfully utilizing the findings of many others, while demonstrating their own extensive research. The book deserves a wide reading."

William C. Pratt, Labour/Le Travail

About the Authors

Alexey Golubev is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia. He co-edited the collective monograph, History of the Barents Region, and has published widely in Russian, English and Finnish on Soviet cultural and social history and Finnish immigration.

Irina Takala is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of History of Northern Europe at Petrozavodsk State University. Her major works include three monographs published in Russian, including a comprehensive account of the history of the Finnish diaspora in Russia, and seven co-edited volumes in Russian, Finnish and English.

Table of Contents

Ch. 1: Finnish Immigrants in North America and Russia
Ch. 2: Two Perspectives on Soviet Immigration Policy: Moscow and Petrozavodsk
Ch. 3: To Karelia!
Ch. 4: The Failure of the Immigration Program
Ch. 5: American and Canadian Immigrants in Soviet Economy
Ch. 6: North American Finns in Soviet Culture
Ch. 7: Challenges of Cross-Cultural Communication
Ch. 8: American and Canadian Finns in the Great Terror
Ch. 9: Wartime and After