Monday, April 30, 2012

Heavy Metal

Last night I saw a documentary on Judas Priest. In a case of life imitating art it did seem to be quite similar to This is Spinal Tap. It is true that unlike AC/DC or Led Zeppelin that the band's drummer did not die of alcohol poisoning. It is also true that Rob Halford's coming out of the closet seems to be unique to metal bands. All those big haired metal groupies and he did not even care, so sad. :-( However, other than that it did have all the same plot lines. The origins in the UK during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the early years of struggle and poverty, the massive success in the US, the problems with drugs and alcohol, the split between the band and the lead singer, and the reunification of the band and the lead singer were all there. Evidently they have no plans of retiring even though they are all in their 50s now. Maybe I can book them for my retirement party in 19 years?

Sunday, April 29, 2012


I am currently reading Smiley's People and I am struck by the large number of Estonians in the book. There are not that many Estonians in the world and Stalin reduced their population by a significant degree. But, they do seem to find their way everywhere.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Classes are over for the semester

I have now finished all my lectures for the semester. My next class is not until August. I hope that I do not ever have any more 7:30 am Monday classes or 6:30 pm Friday classes. Having both this semester made my weekends seem really short.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I have come to the conclusion that most people have fundamental disagreements with me over basic definitions. So here is what I mean when I use these words. I don't expect anybody to ever agree with me. But, at least people should know what I mean.

1. Citizenship: A legal category granted by the state providing a person defined as a citizen with certain rights and documentation of their status, most notably in the form of a passport.

2. Nationality: A political category representing a group of people with certain commonalities who aspire to obtain self determination. Usually nationalities are ethnic groups that have become politicized and desire some form of at least symbolic control over their ancestral territory.

3. Ethnicity: A cultural category representing people who believe they have a common heritage and certain shared signifiers such as language, religion, and way of life.

4. Race: Any immutable category based upon ancestry and inherited at birth. Generally racial categories are imposed upon populations by the state. In contrast ethnic categories are more fluid, have elements of voluntary association, and are formed by elements of society on the basis of cultural commonalities independent of the state. However, it is very easy to racialize national and ethnic categories.

I would still like to know.

I am still curious about the demographic make up of what appears to be my recently enlarged readership. I already knew about Walt and Tanja. But, I have been getting a lot more hits than two a day recently.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Russian-German Settlers in Africa

I just found out that a number of Russian-Germans settled in German East Africa (today Tanzania) during 1906-1907 as part of an Imperial German government program to settle Europeans in the colony. By 1908 there were 67 Russian-German families in the colony out of a total European population of 2845 people (pp. 577-578). I was unaware that there had been any substantial settlement of Russian-Germans anywhere in Africa.

Source: V. Schmidt, "Emigratsiia rossiskikh nemtsev v Vostochnuiu Afriku (1906-1907 gg.): iz kolonial'nogo proshlogo Germanii" in Ethnicheskie nemtsy Rossii: Istoricheskii fenomen. Materialy XII mezhdunarodnoi nauchnoi konferentsii. Moskva, 18-20 sentiambria 2008 g. M., 2009,  pp. 561-580.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Time to Delurk

Strangely enough my site meter says I have been getting lots of hits recently. Since most of them are coming from the US and UK I am assuming some of them are real humans rather than spam bots. Who are you people? Please leave a note in the comments to identify yourself so that I can better cater to the interests of my potential audience.

Finishing up lectures

Today I taught my last 7:30 am class of the semester. I hope I do not have to teach any more ever. Monday morning at 7:30 am is the worst possible time slot to teach a class.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Someday, somebody will inadvertently come here, see the 'graffiti', and agree with something I have written. I have faith now that it will happen. Even though my ideas are way beyond the extreme edge of orthodox academia in America, I think there must be some people out there who agree with me. Eventually one of these people will find their way here and leave a comment. Maybe it won't be this year or next year, but it will happen eventually.

The Power of the Powerless

I had an interesting conversation last night. Strangely enough it put things in a rather different perspective for me. It is true that my work and ideas are largely excluded from orthodox academia. A google scholar search shows that the only other scholar to refer to the special settlement regime as an apartheid system is Galina Ivanova. But, Russian scholarship in the 1990s was considerably more diverse than the reigning orthodoxy in the US today on Soviet nationality policies established by people like Francine Hirsch. It was certainly far, far more critical of the Soviet regime. It is also true that this exclusion gets reinforced on the Internet where most academics refuse to even consider the application of negative terms such as racism, apartheid, colonialism, and genocide to any action ever taken by the government of the USSR. But, it is precisely because much of American academia strives towards a totalitarian model that my marginalization may be less than the total dismissal that I had previously thought.

The argument is that the less room that a regime makes for dissenting ideas the more dangerous it perceives any dissenting ideas. Hence the spectacle of the Soviet and other dictatorships arresting and persecuting people for rather innocuous opposition activities. Now American academia is not anywhere near that level of ideological control, but it is far less diverse than American society as a whole in terms of the acceptance of unorthodox ideas.  So just as the presence of graffiti calling for the overthrow of an authoritarian regime has more meaning than political graffiti in a truly liberal and tolerant society, my dissent has some meaning by the very fact that there is a reigning academic orthodoxy enforced through hiring practices and peer review. Although I have found that it is still possible to surmount this last instrument of control, it has gotten ideologically much tighter in the last couple of years.  However, just like political graffiti in the capital of an authoritarian regime my writing on this blog does indicate that there is not complete overt consent and compliance with the ruling dogma. In a completely open system it is meaningless. But, the more the system attempts to shut out or even just ignore alternative ideas the more potential such graffiti has to be an ideological irritant to the people who enforce the ruling orthodoxy. This is the gist of the argument I got from the person I was debating last night. I initially had a lot of doubts about its veracity. I would have thought that the more closed the system became the easier it was for everybody to completely ignore me. I am guessing that 99.9% of historians in the US teaching Soviet history have never heard of me or read any of my published works. However, I did like his optimism. So from now on I am going to act as if my words might very well serve the same type of function as opposition graffiti in an illiberal state. It greatly increases my status from being a complete nobody.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Soviet Colonialism in the Baltic Again

Scholars that actually study the Baltic States such as Violeta Kelertas and Karlis Racevskis and in an earlier era V. Stanley Vardys have long maintained that Soviet rule over Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia definitely qualified as colonialism. Likewise scholars of colonialism and postcolonialism such as David Chioni Moore have also noted its colonial nature. But, now it appears that a substantial number of western intellectuals with a presence on the Internet now cling to a variation of the old Soviet line on this issue. They claim that by having given Soviet citizenship to the Baltic peoples that there was no difference between Soviet rule over Latvia and the incorporation of Vermont into the US. This unwanted grant of  Soviet citizenship is supposed to mean that there was equality between the population of the occupying power and the Baltic peoples and thus no colonial relationship. This argument is even stupider than the old Soviet claim that the Baltic States voluntarily joined the USSR. But, it is evidently the mainstream view of left-wing western intellectuals on the Internet now. I think the summary by Racevskis is appropriate here.

There are indeed excellent reasons why the Baltic countries should be and always should have been seen as the victims of colonization. It is a conclusion made inescapable in terms of some basic definitions. Colonialism involves, after all, a condition of domination, of territorial occupation and control. As Stephen Slemon puts it, "colonialism oppresses through direct political and economic control." This control materializes in the form of an "ideological regulation of colonial subjects, of subordination through the manufacture of consent." The manufacture in turn, can take many forms. It can be more or less subtle and its strategies can be carried out on various levels of coercion. Generally speaking, however, the fabrication of consent involves such areas of contention as language, history, and education. In this regard, if the Soviet form of colonialism differed from other kinds it was perhaps in the brutality and thoroughness of its oppression (pp. 167-168).
He sums up the basic argument pretty well. But, the intellectual work of burying Stalinism appears to be something that will never end. The corpse keeps coming back in zombie form.

Source: Karlis Racevskis, "Toward A Postcolonial Perspective on the Baltic States" in Violeta Kelertas Baltic Postcolonialism (NY: Rodopi, 2006), pp. 165-186.


I got a message today from a former student who is currently doing post-graduate work who asked if he could use my "blog as an example of marginal discourse in mainstream academics."  I am not sure, however, if the type of stuff I put on this blog would even be considered on the most extreme margins of "mainstream academics" in the US. Looking at the fact that many western intellectuals are now defending the Soviet invasion and occupation of the Baltic states I do not think there is much at all in common between academics in Africa and America. One reason that communism was so weak in Africa is that African intellectuals are just not as stupid as American and European ones.

Friday, April 20, 2012

More very controversial things I believe

Apparently my ideas are being shared by fewer and fewer people on the Internet and among western intellectuals every day. Here are some that seem to be rejected by most of the group described above.

1. That the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states was a modern example of colonialism.

2. That from 1938 on that ethnic categories rather than class ones increasingly became the primary targets of Soviet repression under Stalin reaching a peak on 26 November 1948.

3. That the revival of the cult of Stalin in Russia is just as morally troubling as a similar revival of Hitler's cult in Germany would be.

4. That the USSR should be judged using the same standards as other countries and does not get a free pass on discrimination because they used the term natsionalnost rather than race to describe categories of people.

5. Maybe someday somebody outside of Africa will take my ideas seriously. This is more of a hope than a belief.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Race and Ethnicity

We are drafting a new PhD program in history here. The Head of the Department has assigned me to teach the class on Ethnicity and Race. I just found out this morning that I have to have the course description and reading list done by tomorrow. But, I managed to put together both before lunch today.

New Blogger Format

They have now switched my blogger format to their new format. So I am testing to see if I can make it work. I don't yet see any advantages of the new format over the old format. I am used to the aesthetics of the old format, but other than purely stylistic changes I don't see any differences. It just looks different and things are in different places. I am sure in a couple of weeks I will have gotten used to the new formatting just like I did with Gmail.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Class coverage

A lot classes we teach here cover entire continents over multiple centuries. I find it difficult to adequately cover such a large amount of material adequately in a mere semester. Right now I am wrapping up teaching two classes. One covers the time between the French Revolution and the end of World War II. The other covers from 1945 to 1991. The second one is a lot easier for me to teach in large part because it is only covering half the amount of time as the other class. Last semester I had a class covering from 1914-1945 which is probably the ideal amount of time to cover during a one semester class. It certainly allows for a lot more in depth focus than does covering 1789 to 1945.

How did the Soviet regime survive for so long?

Today I finished up my last lecture for my world history class at city campus. It was on the collapse of the USSR. Rather than just look at why the USSR fell apart I think it is a useful approach to examine how it managed to survive for so long. If you had attempted to convert the British Empire into a similar union it would have failed miserably and rapidly. Of course a big part of this is geography alone. Nonetheless, the very concept applied to empires outside of the Russian Empire appears completely ludicrous. The Soviet experiment does not only because it was successful in many ways for so long. Of course this success was accompanied by the deliberate state murder of millions of people and the incarceration and internal deportation of tens of millions more. More so than any other ideology communism embodies the idea that material progress justifies any and every conceivable atrocity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Class sizes

I think the raw material I have to work with here is pretty good. That is the over all intelligence of the student body is quite high. On the other hand it has not been cultivated to the extent it should be before it reaches me. A better background in academic writing for instance would be helpful. Other than lack of preparation, however, my biggest complaint would be the large size of the classes. Having 115 students in a 300 level class is just too much. The only way this is likely to change is if we hire more faculty. Right now the history department is hiring. So if you have a PhD in history I encourage you to come work with us so that we can reduce the size of classes here.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Another Answer

It appears there is a very famous and prominent academic in France who still glorifies the regime of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. His name is Alain Badiou. So I know where one academic Maoist went. He did not go anywhere. What is it about European philosophers that causes them to support left wing tyrants and why do they become academic superstars? Zizek with his defense of Stalin is another example of this trend.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

More similarities between the Soviet special settlement regime and South African apartheid

The more I read about South African history the more I find their policies of apartheid towards Blacks to be very similar to Soviet policies towards the deported nationalities such as the Germans, Chechens, Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars and others during the Stalin regime. In both cases the stigmatized groups were essentially racial castes in which membership was determined by the state at birth and could not be escaped through assimilation. Only in the case of mixed parentage did the child acquire a different legal category than that of both his parents. In both cases the oppressed groups could not serve in the military, serve in most government posts, and most importantly had to live in designated areas assigned to them by the regime on the basis of their ancestry. Travel even for short distances and times was in both cases regulated by set of strictly enforced pass laws. Yet for all these similarities literally nobody in the field of Soviet history is willing to even admit that the official policies towards these groups were racist acts and that the institution of the special settlement regime was a racist institution. Certainly nobody in the US other than myself has stated that the special settlement regime was a system of apartheid.  Instead we are treated to Hirsch's claims about "sociohistorical groups" not being "racial biological groups." A claim echoed by people like Amir Weiner and others.  A claim that looks particularly weak when one notes that the South African concept of race during the apartheid era is almost always defined in terms of "sociohistorical groups" rather than biological ones.

I now have some answers to the question

After thinking it about some I have some possible ideas for what accounted for the dearth of communist movements in Africa during the 20th Century compared to their much stronger performance in Asia. I had a talk with this subject with the head of the department this morning since some of my students had been asking him about it. However, I am not going to put down my answers to the question until after final exams here in Legon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What happened to all the Maoists in academia?

I wonder what happened to all those academics praising Mao Zedong in the late 1960s and early 1970s? I was just reading an essay by from that era  last night by a Jack Gray who was praising Mao's agricultural policies during the Cultural Revolution. Did all these people just kind of quietly pretend that nothing happened after the Chinese government itself tried the Gang of Four and introduced a long term program of capitalist reforms? Or did they still insist that Mao was right and all the problems were due to revisionists and counterrevolutionaries? Or did they change their tune and take a more critical line once the horrors of Maoism became apparent? Does anybody have any answers?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

News in Ghana

There is a major cholera outbreak in Accra. About 4000 people have gotten sick including five here in Legon. UTAG is threatening to go back on strike over the back pay the administration still owes us. The coup in Mali has not had any effect on anything in Ghana.

Hanging out with royalty

This morning I went to a naming ceremony for the daughter of one of my PhD students. Out of about 30 people there I was the only PhD, but there were five chiefs. I got to sit up front at the table of honor with the chiefs. That was pretty cool.


We are starting to move into the rainy season. We are getting rain more and more frequently now. I am also seeing more mosquitoes around. But, I should have built up some resistance to malaria by now.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday

Today is a national Holiday in Ghana. As a result most of the students have left Legon. The campus is really quiet right now. I intend to enjoy it while it lasts.

The Never Ending War on Plagiarism

I am grading mid-terms for my European history class and so far out of 30 exams I have found five blatant cases of plagiarism off of the Internet including the always popular Wikipedia. Every case of plagiarism gets an automatic zero for the assignment now. Africa is not as bad as Asia due to switching from take home papers to in class exams. They have to do more logistic work upfront. But, still I spend most of my time and energy grading on looking for plagiarism. Crafting the assignments to try and minimize plagiarism does not seem to help at all. Students seem intent on copying no matter what questions I ask. Often they copy answers to questions I did not ask.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Easter Weekend

Easter weekend starts tomorrow here. A lot of the students will go back home for the Holiday. That means the campus will be very quiet. I hope everybody reading this has a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More on why Hirsch is wrong

One of Hirsch's problems is her adherence to a definition of racism that only people intent on defending the USSR or other culprits from the charge of racism still use. Her definition of racism  is one that requires the categorization of population groups in purely biological and physical terms (Hirsch, pp. 30-36). As I have noted elsewhere modern scholars including John Rex, Kenan Malik, Saul Dubow, Etienne Balibar, Paul Gilroy, and many others reject this premise. They note that cultural traits can also be used to define racial groups.  Hirsch states, "But, to call Soviet population politics 'racial' - to insist that a state sees its population through a 'racial lens' if it ascribes cultural or behavioral traits to its population groups (that is, if it stereotypes) is to obscure important differences between the Soviet and Nazi regimes and their projects." (Hirsch, p. 37). I would argue that racism is in fact the ascription of negative cultural or behavioral traits to entire populations determined to be immutable and defined by ancestry. Even more bizarre, however, is Hirsch's apparent belief that the only form of racial discrimination to exist in world history was what existed in Nazi Germany. One of her claims is that the Soviet deportation of nationalities was not racist because the Stalin regime did not seek, "to eliminate their 'genetic material' altogether" and that this distinguished it from Nazi Germany (Hirsch, p. 40). It does in fact point to a difference between Nazi and Soviet forms of racism, but it does not clear the Soviets of the charge of racism itself. Hirsch, however, is unable to conceive of racism as anything other than the Nazi policies of total extermination based upon genetics. For instance she notes that the Soviet government did not treat the Chechens in the exact same manner as the Nazis treated Jews at places like Auschwitz as evidence that Soviet policies were not racist (Hirsch, pp. 40-41). Racism does not require genocide and genocide does not require an attempt to physically exterminate all members of a group based upon their genetic material.

There are a number of different models for the construction of racial categories and many of them such as apartheid in South Africa followed a model of racializing cultural groups such as ethnicities and nationalities similar to Stalin's practice in the USSR. Hirsch continues her defense of Stalin's USSR against the charge of racist practices by noting the differences between it and Nazi Germany, never bothering to note the similarities between the USSR and places like apartheid South Africa regarding nationality policy and ethnos theory. She states, "The Soviet regime did not persecute nationalities because of suspected 'biological weaknesses' or 'deficient inner constitutions.' It did not brand particular nationalities as inferior or degenerate races." (Hirsch, p. 37). To which it should be noted that on the basis of the same type of evidence that the South Africans did not either. Instead the official discourse justifying apartheid stressed that the differences in culture, history, geography, and material levels of development between separate ethnoses required 'separate development' of these different groups.

The South African volkekundiges were among the first post-war racists to grasp that "Volk and culture functioned as a useful substitute for a biological view of race." (Dubow, p. 283). Indeed in the official racial discourse in South Africa, "the diffuse language of cultural essentialism was preferred to the crude scientific racism drawn from the vocabulary of social Darwinism." (Dubow, p. 246). But, they were far from the only ones to define racial groups in a cultural rather than biological manner. As Kenan Malik has noted, "By divesting the concept of race of its biological heritage, and conceiving it in terms of cultural inheritance ('an endlessly transferable set of beliefs and burdens'), the new discourse of race has reshaped the concept into a form usable in the post-Nazi era." (Malik, p. 187). Note that Malik's definition of the new racism is very similar to what actually existed in the USSR. This culturally based racism has the great advantage that like Hirsch with the Soviet Union it allows its defenders to deny it is racist while performing the exact same function as the old biologically based racism (Malik, pp. 186-187). In this sense the USSR was way ahead of the rest of the world with replacing the discredited notions of biology with an exclusionary and primordial definition of ethnicity.

Hirsch, however, denies that racial categories can ever be constructed along cultural rather than biological and genetic lines. She notes, "For the NKVD and the party the issue was not an individual's biological (genetic or blood) membership in one or another group, but his or her cultural heritage and possible ties to other states." (Hirsch, p. 39) She neglects to note that 'cultural heritage' often serves as the basis for racializing a group and assuming political ties to foreign states based solely  upon that heritage is in fact a racist ascription.  Indeed she seems completely unaware of the vast body of work by people like John Rex, Kenan Malik, Paul Gilroy, George Fredrickson, and others precisely on the point of racial formation based upon 'cultural heritage' rather than genetics.


Saul Dubow,  Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa, Cambridge University Press, 1995. 

Francine Hirsch, "Race without the Politics of Racial Politics," Slavic Review, vol. 61, no. 1, (spring 2002), pp. 30-43.

Kenan Malik, The Meaning of Race: Race, History and Culture in Western Society, London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

John Rex on Race and Why Francine Hirsch is Wrong

John Rex is one of the world's  foremost scholars on race relations.  In a 1986 essay he notes contrary to Hirsch that ethnicity and cultural rather than phenological characteristics can be the basis of racism.  The scholarship of people like Rex which later influenced people like Kenan Malik is pretty mainstream regarding every region in the world except the USSR. It is only in Soviet history due to the distorting influence of people like Francine Hirsch that there is a complete denial of the existence of official racism because of the claim that ethnicity is not race and culture is not biology.

Hirsch states, "The mass deportation of targeted nationalities, along with other Soviet nationality policies, was premised on the conviction that nationalities (like classes) were sociohistorical groups with a shared consciousness and not racial-biological groups. This is not a trivial distinction." (Hirsch p. 30). In point of fact it is a trivial distinction because the "sociohistorical groups" perform the exact same role as "racial-biological groups" and both are primordial, essentialized, immutable, and based solely upon ancestry. As noted in earlier posts the South Africans used the "sociohistorical group" definition to define race in South Africa rather than the "racial-biological group" definition Hirsch believes is necessary for racism to exist (Ross, p. 116).  On the basis of Hirsch's logic there were thus never any "racial politics" in apartheid South Africa. But, since Hirsch has never examined racism in a comparative context outside of Nazi Germany and the USSR she fails to see the absurdity of her position. Rex notes  that ethnicity as a "sociohistorical group" to use Hirsch's terms or groups marked by "cultural characteristics" to use his term rather than  phenotypical ones can serve as the basis for racial oppression or exploitation (Rex, p. 72). What is important is not whether the justification of racial discrimination is in "terms of biological ideas." (Rex, p. 71). But, rather that the ethnic identity of a stigmatized group is "imposed upon them to restrict their mobility and to facilitate their exploitation and oppression." (Rex, p. 71). Rex states quite clearly, "I am quite happy to divert attention away from phenotype as such to that group of situations which, whether it rest upon phenotypical or upon cultural differences, actually involves exploitation and oppression."  (Rex, p. 72).  As an example he notes, "the essentially ethnic relations of Northern Ireland actually have much in common with black-white relations in other countries." (Rex, p. 72). That is the discrimination against Catholics by the dominant Protestants in Northern Ireland during the 20th century was racial discrimination even though the groups involved are "sociohistorical" ones rather than "racial-biological" ones.

I know that other than Eric Weitz and Walt Richmond I am the only US scholar who believes that Rex's definition of racism is applicable to the USSR and that everybody else follows the idiocy of Hirsch in believing that there must be some actual "biological" component defining the categories involved for "race relations situations" (Rex, p. 72) to exist. But, why is the USSR of all societies in world history exempt from the same sociological analysis that applies to the rest of the world? Nobody has ever been able to answer this question to my satisfaction. I do, however, encourage to people to try in the comments.


Francine Hirsch, "Race without the Practice of Racial Politics," Slavic Review, vol. 61, no. 1, Spring 2002, pp. 30-43.

John Rex, "The Role of Class Analysis in the Study of Race Relations - A Weberian Perspective," in John Rex and David Mason, (eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations,Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 64-83.

Robert Ross, A Concise History of South Africa, Cambridge University Press, 1999.