Monday, July 28, 2014

Red Racisms

Apparently, Ian Law wrote a book specifically on racism in the socialist world called Red Racisms that came out two years ago. It is part of a larger series published on race by Palgrave MacMillan. The part on how racism developed during Tsarist Russia continued to exist in institutional form in the USSR can be read in its entirety here. It was rather disappointing to me both on a practical and theoretical level. He has almost nothing on Stalin's mass deportation of nationalities and the imposition of apartheid like restrictions upon them. Policies and institutions that effected whole groups of people based solely upon their ancestry or blood. Indeed the whole era where much of the Stalin regime's repression was based specifically upon natsional'nost, 1937-1953 is glossed over in a single paragraph with only a single sentence making reference to "ethnic and national purges." Rather it mostly refers to racial continuities in Tsarist and Soviet rule over Central Asia building upon work first pioneered by Geoffrey Wheeler. Instead following in the lines of Hirsch he focuses the section on the USSR on the work of Soviet physical anthropologists during the 1920s that studied racial differences, but had no influence on either Soviet policy or its ideological justification. Although unlike Hirsch he argues that the Soviet government created and enforced racial hierarchies. The post-Stalin period is equally glossed over and there is no mention of Yulian Bromley and ethnos theory at all despite its importance in providing an ideological justification for Soviet nationality policies along lines of racialized ethnicity. Instead there is a cursory treatment of Soviet media coverage of Africa and Africans and an equally brief synopsis of Soviet policy towards the Roma. Indeed most of the chapter does not deal with the Soviet Union at all, but rather first with Imperial Russia and then with the Russian Federation after 1991. Overall the section on the USSR is greatly marred by sins of omission. How institutional racism functioned legally in the USSR and on a day to day basis is almost completely lacking. The manner is which the life chances of ethnic Germans or Crimean Tatars were actually restricted is not discussed at all. Nor is the ethnos theory which justified the racialization of ethnicity and hence practice of racial discrimination by the regime. Instead we are left with just a few generalities about ill treatment of Muslims, Africans, and Roma as the sum of racial discrimination described during the Soviet era. Given the systematic denial of racism in the USSR both by the regime itself  in the past and Western scholars still today the topic deserves a much more thorough and detailed treatment than Law has given it.

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