Sunday, November 20, 2011

Writing for the world's smallest audience

I am starting to get the feeling that nobody takes anything I write seriously. It is true that the ideas I express on this blog are completely outside the mainstream of US academia. But, things like the continued denial that Soviet policy under Stalin towards groups such as the Russian-Germans, Russian-Koreans, Kalmyks, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars constituted racial discrimination and genocide seem completely untenable. I guess the whole point of having an Ivory Tower is to completely isolate yourself from dissenting ideas.


Withywindle said...

Who on earth denies this? I'm sure academics are ignorant and indifferent--but which American Russianists deny that there were genocides, racial in motivation?

J. Otto Pohl said...

Francine Hirsch, Amir Weiner, and Mark Tauger for starters. I am sure I can think of more. There are also people like Aleksandr Statiev in Canada and Stefan Wheatcroft in Australia who claim that Stalin never committed genocide. There are of course lots more writing in German and Russian, but that is most of the big names in the English speaking world.

Hirsch (U. Chicago) and Weiner (Stanford)are adamant that only was there no genocide, but that there never was any official racism in the USSR under Stalin against groups like the Germans and Koreans. Their whole argument is that because the Soviet government used the terms natsionalnost and narodnost to describe these groups that the deportations were not acts of racial discrimination.

Withywindle said...

Are they the entire field? Meanwhile ... can you give me the names of some books and articles, so I can read their arguments? It does seem incredible that they would deny rather than minimize.

Are they aware that a lack of "official racism" is meaningless?

Happy Thanksgiving.

J. Otto Pohl said...

They are not the entire field, but they are the elite who set the trends in the field. Also I get a lot and I mean a lot of anonymous peer review reports insisting that there never was any racial discrimination in the USSR in regards to the deported peoples. These are all anonymous so maybe they send all my articles to the above named people, but I doubt it.

Hirsch is probably the number one name in the history of Soviet nationality studies right now and has been for a while. She claims that racial discrimination only exists if the target is portrayed in biological and genetic terms similar to the Nazis. This would of course mean that there was never any racial discrimination by the South African government. But, the only people that have disagreed with her in print are Eric D. Weitz (a scholar of Germany, the Holocaust, and comparative genocide), and Fikes and Lemon (two scholars who write on Blacks in the USSR). Everybody else studiously avoids the use of the term race, racial, racialized, and racial discrimination. Instead we see "ethnic", "national", "nationality," and other terms that South African anthropologists used in the 1950s as well to justify apartheid and avoid the term "race." The claim that is that the constructed categories of national'nost and narodnost are completely different from any constructions of race not only in theory, but in practice. Hence one can never accuse the Stalin regime of racial discrimination against Germans, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, etc.

There was a special topic issue in Slavic Review in 2001 in which Weitz proposed that the Soviet deportation of whole nationalities from 1937-1944 and the decree of 26 November 1948 making their internal exile permanent were acts of racial discrimination. He proposed that the Soviets like other regimes engaged in racial discrimination and that natsionalnost had become racialized by reference to primordial cultural essences. Hirsch and Weiner strongly disagreed and asserted that race only referred to biological constructs based upon a model of genetic inferiority similar to Nazi anti-semitism.

Needless to say I come down firmly on the side of Weitz. I think the parochialism of Soviet studies has led them to adopt the regime's official categories as their own way of viewing the world. Weitz coming from the outside is able to think outside this box and note that Nazi Germany is not the only model of racial discrimination in history. So pointing out differences between Stalin and Hitler does not absolve the USSR of genocide yet alone racial discrimination.

The genocide issue revolves around the issue of intent. But, the argument by Statiev and others is that the Stalin regime never intended for any of the national deportees to die. Therefore it was not genocide. I call this the "it was all just an accident theory" of mass mortality. I can give you some references on this later if you wish.

The relevant articles regarding the Weitz, Hirsch, Weiner debate are listed below.

Eric D. Weitz, "Racial Politics without the Concept of Race: Reevaluating Soviet Ethnic and National Purges," Slavic Review, vol. 61, no. 1 (Spring 2001), pp. 1-29.

Francine Hirsch, "Race without the Practice of Racial Politics," Slavic Review, no. 61, no. 1 (Spring 2001), pp. 30-43.

Amir Weiner, "Nothing, but Certainty," Slavic Review, no. 61, no. 1 (Spring 2001), pp. 44-53.

Lemon, Alaina, "Without a Concept? Race as Discursive Practice," Slavic Review, no. 61, no. 1 (Spring 2001), pp. 54-61.

Eric D. Weitz, "On Certainties and Ambivalencies: Reply to my Critics," Slavic Review, no. 61, no. 1 (Spring 2001), pp. 62-65.

Withywindle said...

Thank you! I'll take a look at these.

J. Otto Pohl said...

You are welcome.