Saturday, December 03, 2011

Double Standards

If somebody went around commenting on blogs that it was a morally good thing that the Nazis deported European Jews to the Ghettos because of the atrocities committed by Soviet Jews like Kaganovich then arrest warrants for him would be issued in Germany, Austria, and many other European states should he ever visit them. But, if somebody goes around claiming the moral necessity of deporting all ethnic Germans in the USSR during 1941 to special settlement regions in Siberia and Kazakhstan with similar legal restrictions and mortality rates to the Ghettos created by the Nazis then he gets to be a university professor in New York. There is something seriously messed up here. I thought human rights were supposed to be universal. But, apparently they are only for a few favored and protected or maybe only for one favored and protected group. How did support of genocide become the official line of American academia?


Leo Tolstoy said...

I've found that frequently members of a group that was subjected to genocide are quite hostile to other groups that were victims of genocide. It's as if they feel that mentioning the suffering of another group somehow diminishes the significance of theirs. For example, in his otherwise excellent study of the Armenian genocide Vahakn Dadrian calls the Russian invasion of Bulgaria a great "humanitarian" effort, and ignores the gross atrocities committed by the Russians, Cossacks and Bulgarians against unarmed Turkish, Tatar and Circassian men, women and children, despite the overhwhelming evidence from British, French and Ottoman sources that is published and readily available.

Withywindle said...

Otto: You say for months that you want comments, and then you don't care for mine. Shouldn't you be happy I'm interested enough in your blog to comment? I don't think you're a terribly careful reader: the comment you wouldn't post acknowledged a distinction between deportations in 1941 and in 1944-46. As for the double-standardiness of it all: do you really imagine I am remotely representative of American academia? I can't imagine my views are shared by more than a vanishingly small minority of American professors, or even by more than a smallish minority of American conservatives. You're free to dislike my views, and you're free to dislike the views of American professors, but I think you'll just puzzle people when you ascribe my views to those of professors in general, or vice versa. And as for human rights: "I don't give a damn" is perhaps a bit strong, but they're not very high in what I care about--I may be wrong, but I don't recollect ever maundering about them on my blog. Human rights are what liberals blither about in this generation; you should address your complaints to someone who signed on to the human-rights bandwagon in the first place.

I've gotten a copy of that Slavic Review magazine you mentioned; I'll try to post a comment about it when I've had a chance to read it.

Withywindle said...

Yeah, I've taken a look at that Slavic Review issue now. Interesting. I don't think you're reading those articles quite correctly either. I'll try to whip up a longish blog-post over at A&J in a few days.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I posted all the comments I received. It should be under the last post on Soviet racism just before a short comment on the Japanese-American internment. I saw no distinctions made in the comment between the 1941 and 1945 deportations in the comment I did get. The original post was only on the 1941 deportations in the USSR and had nothing to do with 1944-1945.

Withywindle said...

Oh, that's annoying--I tried to use OpenID instead, but I guess that didn't work. Briefly, I said you were right that there should be a distinction between how we consider 1941 deportations and 1944-46 deportations; and that while I'm all for supporting ethnic cleansing in principle, the case is pretty weak for one in 1941. But that Slavic Review issue I read afterward actually has a bit on the perceived-security-motivation for ethnic cleansing of the Germans in 1941 I'll mention when I get to my own post. Also that you really should allow for more complexity--e.g., an action can both be racist and derive from a perceived security motivation.

Withywindle said...

WR: Surely political alliances also matter? E.g., the Armenians are allies of the Russians and hostile to the Turks, therefore they whitewash the Russians and minimize Turkish suffering. Alliance-blinders seems to me a somewhat different complex from genocide-egoism.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I am not sure how blogger sets up to accept posts. But, other people have had trouble before. Currently, the only comments by anybody that get censored are those that are obviously commercial in nature. I do personally approve each comment. However, unless you are trying to sell something then I am letting through all comments that I see. If something does not appear in a reasonable time try sending it again.

The fact that something is a perceived security threat does not negate it from being racist. Almost all such racist actions have a perceived and in some cases even a real security motive. This includes Jim Crow and even more so South African apartheid. But, in all cases the general ascription of a security threat to _all_ members of a cultural group including women, children, and invalids is incorrect. This was exactly my point with the comparison to Japanese-Americans. There were real security threats, but ascribing the threat to all people in the US of Japanese descent was wrong. I am speaking in a factual sense here. It just was not true. Only few Japanese Americans were potential security risks. But, their existence does not make the relocation of all Japanese on the Pacific coast and southern Arizona a purely political and security affair devoid of any racial components.

The Soviet NKVD culled through the various German communities in the USSR before the 1941 deportations. In the Volga German ASSR out of over 350,000 ethnic Germans they found 145 people they deemed politically unreliable between June and August 1941. The deportations were justified by the claim that the fact that they had not found a large number of spies and saboteurs to be evidence that the population as whole was guilty of harboring and hiding tens of thousands of such people. But, it is really a strained and twisted justification. They were basically admitting they had no evidence that there was any significant security threat, but that they were going to punish the entire population anyway.

This punishment clearly violated the 1936 Soviet, 1937, RSFSR, and 1937 Volga German ASSR constitutions. All of which prohibited "racial" and "national" discrimination. On 29 August 1964 the Soviet government issued a decree admitting that the charges of treason against the Russian-Germans had no basis.

Withywindle said...

Why do you care that the Soviets violated their Constitution in this particular? The regime was founded on terror and butchery, and the Constitution was never more than a fig leaf. Why are you remotely shocked that the Soviets didn't pay attention to their Constitution? Would you be a speck happier if the Soviets butchered just as many of their citizens, but purely for non-racial reasons? Why do you think that saying the ethnic Germans were loyal to the Communist regime is at all a good thing? It means they were loyal to evil. It's ironic that the regime turned on its own, but presumably the loyally Communist Germans deserved anything they got precisely because they were loyal to an evil, mass-murderous regime. Why do you care one millionth as much about "racist" as you do about "mass-murderous"?

And what did those 145 Germans do that made them politically unreliable? You almost make me think the NKVD had its rational moments, when they come up with a list so small.

J. Otto Pohl said...

The constitutional argument is used by Russian scholars such as Belkowetz and western scholars such as Wheatcroft to defend the regime. The claim is that all of these actions were perfectly legal at the time under Soviet law and international laws prohibiting such acts only came later and are therefore not applicable. If you point to the fact that even under Soviet law it was illegal you destroy this particular argument.

The claim that Germans were a security threat is hard to maintain when most of them were loyal Soviet citizens. The whole security justification posed by Hirsch, yourself and others does not hold water regarding the internment in labor camps (trudarmiia) of tens of thousands of loyal Communist Party officials, komsomolists, and Red Army soldiers. If it was really all about security and political loyalty rather than race why were these people not spared?

J. Otto Pohl said...

The 145 arrests for reasons of state security in the Volga German ASSR from 22 June to 10 August 1941 are as follows.

Espionage - 2
"Spreading defeatists and insurrectionist statements" - 97
Membership in "anti-Soviet and counterrevolutionary groups" - 4
"Subversive intentions" - 4
"terrorist intentions" - 3

Withywindle said...

1) If you are characterizing Wheatcroft accurately, then this still seems undue emphasis on rebutting an argument either false or irrelevant. You give the impression of actually caring about the Soviet Constitution, which would be a peculiar waste of time.

2) In any case, a violation of the Soviet Constitution would technically be a violation of civil rights, not of human rights; I think you should do a better job of distinguishing the two categories.

3) The claim is not that the Germans were a security threat, but that the Soviet apparatus thought they were a security threat. It doesn't matter if this was disassociated from reality--what part of Soviet beliefs wasn't? The argument you seem to be engaging in--racist/non-racist--is about what the Soviets believed, not what the reality was. So every time you say "but the Germans were really innocent", you engage in an irrelevancy. The point is that the Soviets believed--however insanely--that there was a security threat from the Germans--which then provoked the deportation of an entire people. So Racism isn't the entire story, even if (whatever the name you use) it is an essential part of the story. (I never said "all about security and political loyalty"--again, you do read carelessly.) But not only should you acknowledge this complexity, that the Soviets weren't solely motivated by Racism, as a matter of historical accuracy, it in no way undermines either the history you want to tell or the moral point you want to make. (Or the one I think you want to make.) You would be more persuasive (to this audience member anyway) if you acknowledged these various complexities.

J. Otto Pohl said...

My argument is that the deportations were in fact racist in their effect regardless of Soviet motivation. I do not care about motives. I care about what actually existed. But, it is difficult to conclude that the Soviets did think they were a security threat when they ordered the deportations and then two days later crafted the accusations of treason. This after three months of hunting around the Volga German ASSR and only finding two people they could accuse as spies. At any rate I can't get into their heads. My charge of racism is that their actions were certainly racist regardless of their motivations. So no my argument is not what the Soviet government believed, but what it did.

Withywindle said...

Otto: I think, then, that your difference is not so much a matter of substance as of vocabulary. The scholars you say disagree with you are using "racism" to refer to intention, to a state of mind, to intellectual history--and this is how the word has traditionally been used in common parlance as well as in scholarly language, although I grant some sloppiness of usage recently, largely in the Left. I do not think you should say you disagree with these scholars (or vice versa), since you are not engaging with them on the intellectual terrain they denote by the debate about the word "racist"--which is centrally one of motives. And indeed, since the moral charge of "racism" derives directly from the judgment of motives, I rather think that you have made an argument of no weight if it does not concern itself with motives. I would urge you to reconsider your choice of vocabulary, if only 1) to communicate in language as commonly understood both popularly and by academics and 2) therefore to make your arguments more effectively.

As to what the Soviets believed: you've never heard of policemen framing people they know are guilty but can't prove? Or of people coming with ex post facto lame justifications? To speak nothing of the psychotic, self-deluding operations of a totalitarian state. This all seems eminently plausible to me as a sequence of events.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I think whether the Soviet government honestly believed that all ethnic Germans were potential traitors or not is irrelevant to the fact that accusing them all of treason, rounding them all up, and shipping them to Siberia and Kazakhstan were acts of racist ascription and discrimination. The universal ascription of the charge of treason and the differential treatment from most Soviet citizens on the basis of belonging to an immutable nationality defined at birth are what I am defining as racist.

The Soviet government denied certain groups such as the Germans, Koreans, Chechens, Crimean Tatars etc., civil rights granted to other similarly defined groups. This denial of civil rights to an entire group defined by ancestry I think fits in with most definitions of racism. This is pretty clear from the deportation documents which refer to _all_ members of the deported nationalities. That is universal ascription and saying that all Germans or all Kalmyks are traitors is just as racist as somebody saying all blacks are criminals. Punishing the entire group on the basis of this charge without similarly treating other groups with equal levels of collaboration is discrimination. I do not need to provide the real motive for this ascription and discrimination. I say it was racist based upon the fact it was specifically targeted at certain nationalities. Nationalities that the Soviet government treated as immutable and in which membership was automatically acquired at birth.

The fact is we don't know and can only speculate about the real motives for the deportations. That information never made it to paper. The real reason as opposed to the official reasons of security and mass collaboration were never committed to paper. The members of the Soviet politburo never revealed in their memoirs the actual reasons.

But, racism to me refers to acts of differential treatment based upon group membership not the reasons for that discrimination. The motive for ascribing a negative trait to an entire group of people defined by descent and unable to legally assimilate is really neither here nor there as to whether such ascription is racist. Deporting, restricting the movement, and mobilizing for forced labor all members of this group as punishment for engaging in this ascribed behavior clearly falls under the heading of racial discrimination in my mind.

I am basing my thinking upon what most scholars outside the field of Soviet studies have been writing about race since the 1960s. A lot of this is now enshrined in international law. The 1965 International Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination defines the term as follows.

"In this convention the term 'racial discrimination' shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or the effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or other field of public life."

This is the official definition of racial discrimination under international law. Restrictions based upon national or ethnic origin that impair the rights of individuals in any sphere are in fact legally acts of racial discrimination. Under this law it is clear that Soviet treatment of the Russian-Germans and other deported peoples was racial discrimination. The motives for these restrictions and exclusions is not part of the definition above. As long as these restrictions have the effect of impairing the human rights of the targeted group then racial discrimination exists. I think there is no doubt that under the definition of the 1965 ICERD as well as later international instruments that the Stalin regime did practice racial discrimination against the Russian-Germans and others. The motive for this racial discrimination I will leave to mind readers.

Withywindle said...

It's interesting that your quoted convention says "purpose or effect". OK, I'll grant you that "effect" is a larger part of the semantic field than I was stipulating. But still, the conversation in the Slavic Review was pretty clearly concerned with "purpose"--and it didn't seem impossible to do an intellectual history that could winkle that out.

Let me rephrase the critique then: "racism" is ambiguous, in that it can either connote purpose or effect. I am intensely allergic to the word for a variety of reasons, but shall we say arguments along the line of "if X group does badly on the SATs, then the SATs are racist" has made me distinctly allergic to the word. The ambiguity also makes for an easy slide between perceived impact and accusations of purpose, that I take as, if you will, libelous attempts at mind reading. Given these ambiguities, I, at least, would be much happier if you made yourself a macro to stipulate clearly every time you address the subject that you are using racism solely to refer to effects, and not to purposes. I continue to think such a clarification would also be of use in your various scholarly conversations.

J. Otto Pohl said...

The purpose thing falls flat on its face because there are lots of cases of the stated purpose differing from the effect. In fact other than Nazi Germany there probably are no instances of racist purpose by government action that can actually be proved in modern history. At least not at the time those governments were actually in power. Case in point is South Africa.

Based on purpose or intent then South African apartheid was not racist under the definition given by Hirsch and Weiner. The South Africans said they wanted the separate development of different cultures very similar to the Soviet policy of creating various national territories. Never in their official statements or the vast scholarly literature they produced to support their position do they refer to biological races or any intent to deny people rights on this basis. Instead they refer to separate cultures and the different material levels of development and needs each one possessed. Nobody accused apartheid of being racist based upon the stated purpose of Pretoria. They noted it was racist because of the effect of these policies on groups that despite being called ethnic, national, and cultural were actually racial.

Withywindle said...

All right ... I will mull.