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Nothing but Certainty

  • Amir Weiner

Eric D. Weitz argues that the Soviet Union promoted the development of national institutions and consciousness and explicidy rejected the ideology of race. Yet traces of racial politics crept into Soviet nationalities policies, especially between 1937 and 1953. In the Stalin period particular populations were endowed with immutable traits that every member of the group possessed and that were passed from one generation to the next. Recent scholarship, he suggests, has been resistant to drawing out the racial elements in the Stalinist purges of certain nationalities. Francine Hirsch challenges Weitz’s argument, arguing that the Soviet regime had a developed concept of “race,” but did not practice what contemporaries thought of as “racial politics.” Hirsch argues that while the Nazi regime attempted to enact social change by racial means, the Soviet regime aspired to build socialism dirough die manipulation of mass (national and class) consciousness. She contends that it is imperative to analyze the conceptual categories that both regimes used in order to undertake a true comparative analysis. Weiner proposes that Soviet population politics constandy fluctuated between sociological and biological categorization. Although the Soviets often came close to adapting bioracial principles and practices, at no point did they let human heredity become a defining feature of political schemes. Race in the Soviet world applied mainly to concerns for the health of population groups. Despite the capacity to conduct genocidal campaigns and operate death camps, the Soviets never sought the physical extermination of entire groups nor did they stop celebrating the multiethnicity of tiieir polity. The radicalization of state violence in the postwar era was triggered by die nature and role of the war in the Soviet world, the alleged conduct of those who failed to rise to the occasion, and the endemic unstable and unassimilated borderlands, and not by die genetic makeup of the internal enemies. Alaina Lemon’s contribution suggests that scholars seek racialized concepts by treating discourse as situated practice, rather than by separating discourse from practice. This allows consideration of the ways people use language not only to name categories but also to point to social relationships (such as “race”) with or without explicidy naming them as such. Doing so, however, is admittedly more difficult when die only available evidence of past discursive practices are printed texts or interviews. In conclusion, Weitz responds to these critics.

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Epigraph taken from Mikoian, Anastas, Tak bylo: Razmyshleniia o minuvshem (Moscow, 1999),,514.

1 On contemporaries’ equation of the Soviet regime with the Nazis, see Weiner, Amir, Making Sense of War: The Second World War and the Fate of the Bolshevik Revolution (Princeton, 2000), 193–95.

2 Robinson, Nehemiah, The Genocide Convention: Its Origins and Interpretation (New York, 1949), 15.

3 The official amendment offered by the Soviet delegation called for extending the definition of genocide to include “national-cultural genocide,” which consisted of: “a) a ban on or limitation of the use of national language in public and private life; a ban on instruction in the national language in schools; b) the liquidation or ban on printing and distributing books and other publications in national languages; c) the liquidation of historical or religious monuments, museums, libraries, and other monuments and objects of national culture (or religious cult).” Trainin, Aron Naumovich, “Borɴba s genotsidom kak mezhdunarodnym prestupleniem,” Sovetskoegosudarstvo ipravo 5 (May 1948): 4, 6, 14.

4 This is the main point driven home by Slezkine, Yuri in “The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Edinic Particularism,” Slavic Review 52, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 414–52.

5 Jonathan Bone, “Asia Stops Here: Border-Zone Slavicization and the Fate of the Far East Koreans, 1925-1937” (paper presented at the annual meeting of die American Association for die Advancement of Slavic Studies, St. Louis, 18–21 November 1999); Rittersporn, Gabor, “‘Vrednye elementy,’ ‘opasnye menshinstva’ i bolshevistskie trevogi: Massovye operatsii 1937-1938 gg. i etnicheskii vopros v SSSR,” in Vikhavainen, Timo and Takala, Irina, eds., V sem'e edinoi: Natsionalnaia politika partii boɴlshevikov i ee osushchestvlenie na Severo-Zapade Rossii v 1920-1950-e gody (Petrozavodsk, 1998), 115.

6 Naimark, Norman, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth- Century Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 2001), 103–4.

7 On Nazi policies in the Caucasus, see Dallin, Alexander, German Rule in Russia, 1941-1945: A Study of Occupation Policies, 2d rev. ed. (London, 1981), 226–75. Plausibly, most fatal for diese groups were die German appeals to Bashkir and Tatar soldiers to defect from the Red Army and a 21 February 1943 article in Joseph Goebbels’s weekly, Das Reich, diat spoke of the many “new allies” among diese nationalities who had remained behind when die German troops left. Dallin, German Rule, 251n2, 271–72.

8 Rieber, Alfred, “Persistent Factors in Russian Foreign Policy,” in Ragsdale, Hugh, ed. and trans., Imperial Russian Foreign Policy (Cambridge, Eng., 1993), 357–58. On the dilemma of Russian colonists nativized by indigenous populations in northern Siberia, see Sunderland, Willard, “Russians into Iakuts? ‘Going Native’ and Problems of Russian National Identity in the Siberian Nordi, 1870s–1914,” Slavic Review 55, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 806–25.

9 Browning, Christopher R., “Beyond ‘Intentionalism’ and ‘Functionalism’: The Decision for the Final Solution Reconsidered,” in Browning, , The Path to Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution (Cambridge, Eng., 1992), 86121; Gerlach, Christian, “The Wannsee Conference, the Fate of German Jews, and Hider’s Decision in Principle to Exterminate All European Jews,” Journal of Modern History 70, no. 4 (December 1998): 759812.

10 Holquist, Peter, “State Violence as Technique: The Logic of Violence in Soviet Totalitarianism,” in Weiner, Amir, ed., Landscaping the Human Garden: Twentieth-Century Population Politics in a Comparative Framework (Stanford, 2002), 2332.

11 Holquist, “State Violence as Technique“; Smith, Kathleen E., Remembering Stalin’s Victims: Popular Memory and the End of the USSR (Ithaca, 1996); the post-Stalin re-exile, amnesties, and rehabilitations of those slated in 1948–50 for permanent exile are dealt widi in Amir Weiner, “The Return from die Gulag: The Soviet Western Frontier, 1956–57“ (paper presented at die annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, Washington, D.C., November 2001).

12 Viola, Lynne, “Tear the Evil from the Root: The Children of Spetspereselentsy of the North,” Studia SlavicaFinlandensia 17 (April 2000): 3472; Serhiichuk, Volodymyr, ed., Desiat’ buremnykh lit: Zakhidnoukrains'ki zemli v 1944-1953 rr. Novi dokumenty i materialy (Kiev, 1998), 721–22; Weiner, Making Sense of War, 202.

13 Buber, Margarete, Under Two Dictators, trans. Fitzgerald, Edward (New York, 1949), 215.

14 For another exemplary foray by a Germanist into east European historiography, see Eley, Geoff, “Remapping the Nation: Revolutionary Upheaval and State Formation in Eastern Europe, 1914–1923,” in Potichnyj, Peter J. and Aster, Howard, eds., Ukrainian- Jewish Relations in Historical Perspective (Edmonton, 1988), 205–46.

15 See the judicious observations of Rogger, Hans, Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia (Berkeley, 1986), 3539.

16 Slezkine, Yuri, “N. la. Marr and the National Origins of Soviet Ethnogenetics,“ Slavic Review 55, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 857–62.

17 For a good treatment of the German-Soviet collaboration and its breakdown, see Weindling, Paul, Epidemics and Genocide in Eastern Europe, 1890–1945 (Oxford, 2000), 183208.

18 Lobashev quoted in Adams, Mark, “The Soviet Nature-Nurture Debate,” in Graham, Loren R., ed., Science and Soviet Social Order (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), 121.

19 “Priroda pravonarushenii,” hvestiia, 18 July 1968.

20 Richard T. de George, “Biomedical Ethics,” in Graham, ed., Science and the Soviet Social Order, 220.

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Slavic Review
  • ISSN: 0037-6779
  • EISSN: 2325-7784
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