Sunday, March 04, 2012

Racial Discrimination in the USSR Once More

I know that I am the only one of three people in the world who believes this, but I still fail to see how the Soviet deportations of whole nationalities was not racist. Just because the Soviet government used the term natsionalnost rather than race does mean the actions were not in effect racist. In practice the term natsionalnost meant the exact same thing as race when it came to the treatment of the deported peoples. In these cases the category functioned exactly like the term 'race' and was even constructed along similar historical and cultural lines as existed in apartheid South Africa with regards to restricting freedom of residency and movement. Yet a Google scholar search on "racial discrimination in the USSR" shows only two articles. The first is my recent publication in Human Rights Review. The second is an article on Jews from 1977. The more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that Hirsch's argument that there was never any racial discrimination by the Stalin regime against the deported peoples to be extremely weak. The racist function of institutions like the 'special settlement regime' is not dependent upon what term is used to describe the division of humans into immutable groups based upon ancestry. It is the differential treatment by the state of humans divided into such groups that constitutes racial discrimination. Why is it scholars are able to recognize this for every other case in the history of the world, but still claim that racism never existed as an official policy in the USSR towards groups like the ethnic Koreans, Germans, Chechens, Kalmyks, and Crimean Tatars?  Strangely enough a number do claim that official racism existed against Jews even though the Soviet government never subjected Jews as a group to the apartheid like restrictions that greatly reduced the life chances of the above mentioned groups during the 1940s and 50s.


Withywindle said...

Have you read Norman M. Naimark's Stalin's Genocides (Princeton, 2010)?

J. Otto Pohl said...

Yes, I have read it.

Withywindle said...

The title makes it sound as if you ought to acknowledge that you're not the only one pounding the drums.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Naimark's book is not very strong on claiming that the deportations constituted genocide. He is rather ambiguous at best. He states in his conclusion on p. 135 the following:

"The attack on certain 'enemy' nationalities in some cases took on genocidal characteristics"

That is he is not willing to say it is actually genocide only that in some cases there were characteristics similar to genocide.

"The peoples involved consider Stalin's actions genocidal."

But, whether Naimark considers them genocide is never stated. Instead he concludes with the following statement.

"At the very least, the attacks against the Chechens-Ingush and Crimean Tatars should be considered attempted cultural genocide."

Note the mitigating words attempted and cultural. So he is not pounding on any drums. He is basically taking a very weak position that they are considered genocide by other people and there is evidence for this position. But, he is unwilling to come out and say that the deportations actually were genocide rather than merely having "genocidal characteristics" in "some cases." He is only willing to go so far as "attempted cultural genocide" rather than actual physical genocide.

Withywindle said...

Just googling, I find Naimark saying this:

I find it odd you don't regard him as an ally.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Yet nowhere does he ever claim that the national deportations were genocide. He only makes the claim for other things like the Ukrainian famine. Even though looking at Lemkin's work and the 1948 UN definition the national deportations appear to be a much easier case to make. His position on the deportations is a lot better than a lot of other people, but much, much weaker than somebody like Weitz.