Despite all the mystery and controversy about Lee Oswald and Russia, one thing that is clear is that his personal interest in socialism, the Marxist dialectic, social and racial justice goes back to his youth and his teenage years. As a teenager, Oswald went so far as to write the Young Socialist League about not only joining but about starting his own branch – an approach he would take a few years later with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (Greg Parker, “Lee Harvey Oswald’s Cold War”, 263).
Oswald’s social and political views can be seen in books he read and owned and in remarks to his friends over the years. All in all they were as much a part of his personality as his inclination to be opinionated, argumentative and intolerant of things he considered routine, boring or otherwise objectionable (characteristics that surfaced throughout his time in the Marines, especially in interactions with NCOs and officers). Oswald marched to his own cadence, and was never one to follow the crowd – or to take orders readily.
On the other hand, Oswald could make friends and he could be influenced by them. He had a difficult time fitting into public school (who didn’t) but photos also show him acting up as a class clown. He was interested in science to an extent and joined an astronomy club as well as the Civil Air Patrol. And in Russia he made a series of male and female friends, all outside the standard Soviet political context.
His manuscript of his experiences there, written after his return to Texas, records many of those friendships and his admiration for Russians as individuals. It also makes pulls no punches in regard his disdain for political meetings and mandatory lectures. Perhaps most importantly it records his bitter rejection of Soviet internationalism (which he felt was simply a tool of Soviet geopolitics) and of the Communist Party of the United States – which he also felt was nothing more than a Soviet political tool.
Yet after his return, he continued to read Russian publications and literature, to be fascinated by Russian culture, and to champion relationships between average Russian and American citizens. In short, Oswald’s interest in Russia and things Russian appears to have been personal, very possibly an extension of his iconoclastic and contrarian attitudes – and not something overlaid on him by parties unknown at some fixed point in time. In that context his interest in the Russian language, his efforts to learn it and the tools he used to do so are not nearly as mysterious as we might have believed at one time. Perhaps the best exposition of that is in further work by my friend Greg Parker. It deals with Oswald’s language skills and his experience with the language in the Marine Corps – I heartily recommend it:
In contrast, one fundamental mystery that does remain after all these years is the process by which Oswald registered at a college in Switzerland, never appeared there despite an extended paper trail related to his enrollment and (with his family firmly convinced he was off to college) instead of Switzerland, ended up in Moscow.
Even the question of how he learned of Albert Schweitzer College remains in doubt – his enrollment forms all refer back to a Marine officer as his application sponsor. That mystery is addressed, but not resolved, in an extensive work by George Michael Evica, “A Certain Arrogance”. It’s a fascinating yet frustrating read (as the subject was for Evica as well) but well worth a read.
While Evica does not solve the Oswald mystery, he does explore many of the details of the very convoluted and “distance” oriented practices of manipulating individuals employed by the US intelligence community during and in the years following World WAR II.
Oswald’s college experience is also explored, and related documents are presented, on the Education forum and that is worth a read as well.
In the end, there is really little mystery in Lee Oswald deciding he wanted to go to Russia and see its people and politics first hand. The idea very likely was his own, but then personal ideas and interests also leave individuals with contrarian views open to manipulation. How and to what extent that applies to Lee Oswald and Russia remains the unanswered question.