Sunday, June 21, 2015

A very strong Russian challenge to the orthodox US view on racism in the USSR

The orthodox academic position in the US as established and militantly defended by Francine Hirsch at the University of Wisconsin is that there was never any racial discrimination in the USSR under Stalin against such groups as Koreans, Balkars, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars. This extremist position defending the Stalinist regime from any and all charges of racial discrimination has gone almost completely unchallenged in the US. Some Russian scholars, however, have a very different view of racism in the USSR under Stalin. One of these scholars is Madina Tlostanova who pulls no punches when it comes to discussing Soviet racism and the justification of this racism by tenured US professors like Francine Hirsch.
Opposing Weitz, F. Hirsch disagrees with the analogy between the Holocaust and Soviet ethnic cleansings. The skillful Soviet rhetoric, as it turns out, is still able to enchant. However, there is possibly another factor here at work. It is an intention to see the Holocaust and Nazi racial discourses as unique and to disparage the importance of the Soviet racism by its partial justification. What is behind this move? Racism once again - a fundamental basis of modernity. It follows that the lives of Balkars and Koreans are not as important as Jewish lives. Taking Chechens or Crimean Tatars to a subhuman status even without a declared physical annihilation based on racial difference, is presented in some works as not as horrible as the highly symbolic Holocaust experience. Yet the Soviet racial othering is not unique and in various degrees and guises it is typical of Stalinism, Nazism, and colonialism alike. In all cases there is the same operation at work - divesting the enemy of his human nature. He or she is associated with disease, infection, which society needs to be cured from. Sometimes this zeal is milder, as it happened in the interpretation of Oriental women in the USSR, who were seen as subject to (re)formation. In other cases it ends with genocide of the unreformable enemy nations and with erasing of even their names from all encyclopedias and dictionaries, as if they never existed. The final biologization of nationality and its primordial interpretation took a racist form as the right to choose one's nationality even in the passport was granted to only selected citizens in the USSR and accompanied by discriminating policies.

Source: Madina Tlostanova, Gender Epitemologies and Eurasian Borderlands (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), p. 119.

I don't have much hope for US academics ever outgrowing their blindness towards Soviet racism. Hirsch's view pretty much completely dominates the US academy which refuses under any circumstances to believe that such a thing as Soviet racism could exist. But, I am very glad to see that scholars outside the US, particularly in Russia have a far more realistic and less defensive position regarding the Stalin regime.

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