Saturday, September 29, 2012

Racism by any other name is still racism

It has occurred to me that the various national deportations in the USSR under Stalin as well as the earlier national operations during 1937-1938 were based upon the old Tsarist prejudices against these groups. Koreans were viewed as part of a Yellow Peril. Germans were looked at as privileged foreigners exploiting Russians and Ukrainians. To make matters worse popular prejudice portrayed them as refusing to assimilate and being connected to an enemy state. Chechens, Ingush, Karachais, Balkars, Kalmyks, and Crimean Tatars had the reputation of being bandits who had consistently resisted the legitimate rule of the Russian Empire and the USSR. These prejudices did not magically disappear under Soviet rule. But, an officially "anti-racist" state deliberately differentiating itself from places like Nazi Germany or the US during Jim Crow could not officially justify racist practices upon these prejudices.

Instead it was necessary to create a theoretical framework which differentiated "social-historical" groups from "racial-biological" groups even if the actual groups being categorized such as Koreans, Germans, Chechens, Kalmyks, Crimea Tatars, etc. were the exact same in both cases. In other words the actual basis for the deportations was the same old hatreds that Russians had always had for these groups, but it was necessary to substitute the terms natsional'nost for race and culture for blood for public relations purposes. This was no problem as the South Africans and Israelis later found out as well. Ethnicity can easily be a synonym for race and culture substitutes very well for biology. Francine Hirsch of course accepts the entirety of official Soviet discourse on "race" during this time at face value without noticing that the terms used to justify racist practices do not in fact render those practices non-racist. What I don't understand is why almost all academics in the US studying Soviet nationality policy have followed Hirsch's lead in swallowing the Soviet argument that they did not practice racial discrimination under Stalin. After all nobody accepted the similar argument made by the South African government regarding apartheid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"In other words the actual basis for the deportations was the same old hatreds that Russians had always had for these groups"

Now, that sounds kinda racist.

Besides, Stalin himself and a good part of his closest comrades weren't Russians.