Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on Soviet Apartheid

I know almost no US academics and certainly none on the Internet thinks that there were ever any racist policies in the USSR except for antisemitism, but looking at it from a point of view not dedicated to defending Moscow from the charge of racism things appear very different. If one looks at the legal restrictions of the special settlement regime in the USSR and apartheid in South Africa from a comparative point of view they appear very similar. When one notes that the construction of 'race' in South Africa after 1948 was in fact never officially justified along a model of genetically determined biological inferiority like Nazi Germany, but rather along lines of primordial ethnicity defined by anthropologists it looks even more similar. The problem is that some people calling themselves scholars automatically assume that because the Soviet government called the Kalmyks for example a nationality rather than a race that there was no racial component to their repression. They also assume wrongly that the South African system of racial classification was similar to that of Nazi Germany and based upon articulations of genetic inferiority rather than claims of cultural differences. This an instance where the total lack of comparative studies regarding the USSR has produced a lot of idiocy by tenured professors at big name US universities.

So to remedy this lack of comparative history I am presenting a brief summary of my findings on the similarities between Soviet 'racial' policies and South African 'racial' policies.

1. The legal restrictions imposed upon deported peoples in the USSR bear a close similarity to the apartheid laws of South Africa. The special settlement restrictions imposed upon these nationalities closely fits the model of apartheid constructed a few years later in South Africa. In both cases immutable groups of people defined by ethnicity at birth were subject to severe restrictions upon their residency and movement. To enforce these restrictions both regimes created a system of pass laws.

2. The construction of natsional'nost in the USSR bears a close similarity to the construction of 'race' in apartheid South Africa. Both were based upon primordial ethnicity and immutable cultural groups rather than any biological or genetic conception of difference. Both were also forms of racism that relied upon the sciences of anthropology and ethnography rather than biology and genetics.

3. The terms natsional'nost, narodnost, volk, ethnicity, nationality, and culture when used by both regimes were interpreted by the population in racial and indeed racist ways. They supported and validated a vast unofficial racist discourse. In the Soviet case this is evident in the vast array of racist jokes, insults, stereotypes, and even violence that connected directly to the official classifications of natsional'nost or narodnost. People in the USSR viewed these categories in the same way that people in South Africa viewed racial categories.

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