Thursday, October 25, 2012

Suggestion Box

I have now finished editing my piece, "Is there a Black Eurasia? Ghanaian and other Diasporic Populations in the USSR in Comparative Perspective." I now need some suggestions about what to write next. I have been working a little bit on a piece with no publisher yet again comparing the special settlement regime in the USSR with apartheid in South Africa. In addition to the actual practices it also looks at the similarities in Soviet and South African ethnos theory. Although given the difficulty I had finding a peer reviewed journal willing to publish my last such comparative piece I think I should also line up an article on another topic. The official orthodox line of scholars of Soviet nationality policies established by Francine Hirsch is that the mass deportations of entire ethnic groups in the USSR and placing them under special settlement restrictions were not acts of racial discrimination. Their sole argument being that ethnicity is not race and biology is not culture. This puts most historians of the USSR at complete odds with the definition of racial discrimination enshrined in international law and people researching ethnicity and race in the rest of the world.  The 1965 ICERD and scholars of race and ethnicity like Malik, Rex, Balibar, Fredrickson, Dubnow, Tilley, Weitz, and others have repeatedly pointed out that ethnicity can be racialized and racial categories can be constructed along cultural rather than biological lines. But, if you try and apply the definition of racial discrimination in the ICERD and espoused by people like Rex and Fredrickson to the USSR you get lots and lots of  vicious peer review rejections.  The majority view among people dealing with Soviet nationality policies is apparently that Hirsch is correct and race can only be constructed along genetic and biological lines. They therefore conclude that there was no official racial discrimination by the Stalin regime against groups such as Koreans, Germans, Kalmyks, Chechens, Crimean Tatars, and others. Getting through such ideological gate keepers takes a couple of years now. So in addition to another article comparing the Soviet special settlement regime and South African apartheid I need something I can get published a little bit faster.

8 comments:

Walt Richmond said...

Why not apply racial theories to the current situation in the Caucasus. There's definitely something similar to apartheid going on there, and no one can bring up Soviet nationalities policy because it's irrelevant to the Russian Federation.

Plus, you might piss Putin off and get investigated like me!

J. Otto Pohl said...

Walt:

I am an historian not a person who does current stuff. But, my whole point is that Soviet nationality policies towards the deported peoples was racist.

Walt Richmond said...

Well, then, is it possible to demonstrate a continuity between Russian Imperial policies and Soviet policies? If you can demonstrate that the Soviets employed similar policies to the Russian Empire, and you can demonstrate that Russian Imperial policies were racists (which it would seem rather easy to do), you have a longitudinal study that undermines the idea that Soviet policies were somehow different.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Well there does appear to be a continuity. But, there is no smoking gun where it is written in the archives that the real reason for the deportation was a continuation of Tsarist policies and prejudices. The problem is that while the actions are very similar the Soviets successfully created an ideological shield around themselves that people like Hirsch still buy wholesale. That is the idea that ethnicity is not race and culture is not biology so there was no racism, racial discrimination, and certainly no genocide. The South Africans tried the exact same thing during apartheid, but nobody believed them. Can you imagine if people had?

Walt Richmond said...

Well, as for claiming that it's not genocide because it wasn't a matter of race, she clearly hasn't read the UN Genocide convention, which defines genocide as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." Of course, I run into that ignorance all the time.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Actually Walt she is aware of it because she makes note of it in footnote 47 of her article. She states, "As Weitz himself notes, the United Nations definition of genocide 'is at one and the same time too broad and too narrow.'" (fn. 47, p. 40). She just chooses to discard it and instead use her own definition which is based upon the definition used by the Stalin regime before the 1948 treaty.

She defines genocide as a policy towards biologically defined groups seeking "to eliminate their 'genetic material' altogether." (p. 40). Later on the same page she states that genocide is "an attempt to purge a particular genotype from the body politic." (p. 40). On the next page she notes that it requires "exterminating people based upon an unredeemable racial identity." (p. 41). Finally, she claims that for the Soviets to have committed genocide against the deported peoples they would have had to attempted to "systematically murder all members of 'selected' nationalities." (p. 41). So she is aware of the 1948 UN definition, but it is very inconvenient for her defense of the Stalin regime. She just simply notes it and ignores it and instead uses a definition which limits the practice to Nazi Germany.

datatutashkhia said...

"...her defense of the Stalin regime"

See, this is where it shows that you act not as a historian, but as an advocate. One doesn't need to be an apologist to find significant and essential differences (regarding racism) between stalinism and Nazism (together with SA apartheid).

Walt Richmond said...

Yeah, there are about 50 different definitions of genocide floating around, but as far as I know hers is the only one that it so obsessed with the genetic component. She doesn't seem to really care that Lemkin never had that in mind. She seems rather trapped in the mindset that only the Holocaust was truly "genocide," as are many people. In genocide studies, such a question never really comes up.