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By Sean — 9 years ago
There isn’t much by way of new information about the raid on Memorial. Why the human rights organization was raided still remains a mystery. Work has renewed at the organization’s office but day to day activities remain disturbed. After all, the police did confiscate a laundry list of materials. According to a statement issued by Memorial, those materials include several hard drives that contain “biographical information of tens of thousands of victims of Stalinist repression collected by Memorial over the last 20 years, a unique collection of photographs and copies of archival documents on Stalinist terror, the results of searches of camp cemeteries and firing ranges in the territory of the former USSR, and an archive of audio interviews with former GULAG prisoners.”
Memorial, of course, wants their stuff back unmolested and as soon as possible. When Irina Flige, the director of Memorial St. Petersburg, presented this request to the investigative committee, they told her that an official response will take about a month.
The seizure of historical documents relating to terror unsurprisingly raises the specter of Stalinism and its place in Russian historical memory. Stalin still remains a controversial figure. He’s continues to be loved and hated, sometimes in the same breath. Historians have provided no satisfactory unified narrative for this complex period of Russia’s history. This failure is not for lack of documentation. The problem is more than how one interprets those documents continues to have political resonance for the present.
Still, the Memorial raid does raise the issue about documents and whether, as Clifford Levy argued in a recent article in the NY Times, “many archives detailing killings, persecution and other such acts committed by the Soviet authorities have become increasingly off limits.”
The declassification of documents has ebbed and flowed in the last 15 years. In the 1990s, the archives were simply opened without any process of declassification. The process was formalized in the mid-1990s with the law “On the process of declassification and extending the period of classification of archival documents of the Soviet government.” Moreover, declassification committees are underfunded and understaffed. There is also little incentive. Now there seems to be a cultural atmosphere that suggests that Russians want to move on. They’ve heard enough about the horrors of the Soviet system and seem to either not care anymore or would rather look to the future rather than the past. There have been instances at the federal level to re-classify documents. A partial list for 2005 and 2006 can be found here. But these seem to have little do with Stalinist terror.
The amount of available materials on the Soviet period are enormous. According to Sergei Mironenko, the director of the State Archive of the Russian Federation, said the following in response to a question about materials on Stalinism in a press conference yesterday:
“I cannot say for certain, but I presume that three-fourths of such documents have been declassified. A quarter remains classified,” he said. “According to our laws, any document must be declassified automatically after 30 years. Unfortunately, this law is not fulfilled,” he said. “Russia has a very awkward and costly declassification system. It takes 27 resolutions of experts to declassify any document,” Mironenko noted. It is difficult to get access to declassified documents, as well, he remarked.
One should emphasize that the 30 years does not pertain to documents relating to individuals. There is a 75 year wait for those unless you get special permission from any surviving family members. Also, getting access to declassified documents depends on what you’re working on. It’s has always been a dance with archivists to get materials if you are interested in seeing blood. I’ve gotten the “You’re requesting a lot of negative material” talk from archivists and I don’t do any research on terror. Part of the reason for this is that most archivists were trained in the Soviet system, so their first impulse is to protect information and not dole it out. The other reasons is that they are particularly sensitive about foreigners sniffing around their archives looking to, in their view, defame their national heritage. Given the legacy of English language historiography on Russia, I can’t say I blame them.
It is important to remember that not all declassifications pertain to Stalinism. For example, one of the holdings declassified this year was the Commission on Paper under the Council of People’s Commissars SSSR, 1928-1929. Anyone interested in what has been declassified in the last few years are encouraged to take a look at Rosarkhiv’s yearly bulletins on declassification. This of course doesn’t include regional archives where access can be hit or miss and depend more on the temperament of local archivists.
Basically, while the Memorial documents are important and must be returned, they are but a drop in a vast ocean of available documentation.
Still, the issue is about historical memory, and in particular the memory of Stalinism. Many are often aghast that Stalin retains a positive image among many Russians. Again and again you hear people ask why Russians have yet to contend with Stalinism. Yet, I wonder whether those who repeatedly ask this question are really asking for Russians to contend with Stalin the way they want them to. They want Russians to see Stalinism as a singular death machine where one man, Stalin, stood at the apex. History is far more complicated and contingent and unfortunately, Stalinism cannot be reduced to this no matter how many victimologies you construct, no matter how many mass graves you dig up, or even however many documents you declassify. if it was our job would be all too easy.
This is why I agree with Slavoj Zizek’s statement that “We should . . .admit that we still lack a satisfactory theory of Stalinism.” Namely, Stalinism was a historical phenonmena, and frankly, to locate its horrors only in the personage of Stalin is whitewashing the millions of people who actively participated in those horrors. In my view, really contending with Stalinism would mean understanding it as a phenonmena where the line between perpretrator and victim was blurred. It would mean coming to terms with the perverse carnivalesque at its core. It would require Russians to look into the mirror and peer deeply into themselves, not to locate victims or even perpretrators, but to ask how a society could cannabalize itself.Post Views: 299
By Sean — 10 years ago
Ninety years ago the Bolsheviks took power. Or, really it was given to them. The Bolsheviks hardly took nothing that the masses in Petrograd had been trying to give them since July. The antiwar protests against the Provisional Government’s military offensive became bloody, Lenin went into hiding, the Bolsheviks went underground. The masses threw the ball to the moderate socialists, but they dropped it. Then enter Kornilov. The Russian Right strikes back but is driven off by a mostly Bolshevik dominated Red Guards. Kerensky and his Government was bankrupt. The SRs and the Mensheviks did exactly how Eisenstein did in October. Peering out cracks in the windows and doors watching the revolution march past them.
Between July and November 1917, the Bolsheviks grew in membership, electoral, and political support. The Bolsheviks, I think Alexander Rabinowitch once wrote, rode a wave of discontent into power.
Lenin’s small band of revolutionaries had ballooned from 24,000 in early 1917 to 390,000 in March 1918. This gave them a potential cadre to pull from and, more importantly, target their slogans, propaganda, and other forms of agitation. The Bolshevik Party became a small mass organization in a very brief period. Moreover, this new membership comprised workers and soldiers–the revolutionary vanguard in Lenin’s eyes.
Membership wasn’t the only indication of Bolshevik popularity in the countries’ centers of power. Bolsheviks were capturing increasingly winning soviet elections. A graph of Petrograd Soviet returns shows a steady Bolshevik rise. Shortly after Kornilov, the Bolsheviks became the majority. I guess that bolshevik finally meant something. More importantly, notice the SR collapse. By the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks had around 50 votes. The minority parties were too fractured to form any opposition; a chronic problem that led to their defeat two years later.
In Moscow, the Bolsheviks peaked later. The September 24 election to the Moscow soviet wielded around 70 votes. Their closest competition, the Kadets, had a paltry 38 or so. By November, the Bolsheviks had tailed off a bit with 50 votes with the Kadets making a surge. Moscow was polarized between far left and tolerable right. The SRs, Mensheviks, and others had collapsed. Moscow was a two horse race.
The Bolsheviks were riding a democratic wave to power. If political parties in the center aren’t enough evidence, the next electoral returns were the Constituent Assembly shows a similar pattern. The elections totals show the following: SRs 38 percent; Bolsheviks 23.7 percent; Kadets 4.8 percent; Mensheviks 3.3 percent. But these totals become meaningless when you look at the Bolsheviks support in Russia’s power centers. The Bolsheviks carried Central Russia, the West, and tied with the SRs in the Northwest. The SRs were popular in the Black Earth and Siberia. Read: peasant. In Kursk Province the SRs got 82 percent of the votes. And it is likely that SRs were the only party peasants even knew. SRs and their protogenes had been agitating the countryside for years. As to their popularity in Siberia, in addition to aforementioned, don’t forget many of them were exiled there.
Perhaps the most important number on this graph is for the army. The Bolsheviks and SRs were neck and neck. But not really where it mattered. This graph of votes from the Western Front show the Lenin and his bunch carrying a landslide with 66.9 percent of the votes. The SRs were nothing at 18.5 percent. As for the Mesheviks and Kadets, who cares? With control of garrisons through Trotsky’s baby, the Military Revolutionary committees, and about half the army, you have power.
But does this mean the Bolsheviks came to power democratically? Well, first that depends on what you mean by democracy. If it means popular, well the Bolsheviks were popular. No, they didn’t have a straight majority. But they had the mass popularity where it mattered. The calls for the Soviets to take power had been cried since the July Days. Their voices became a fever pitch after Kornilov. “All Power to the Soviets!” And the Bolsheviks heeded their call.
People will probably scoff at the idea that the Bolsheviks came to power democratically. I asked my students what they thought when I taught these figures to a class on the Russian Revolution. “Do these voting returns say that the Bolsheviks came to power democratically?” I asked. Silence. Then one of my students blurted out, “It is if you consider it like our Electoral College.”
I hadn’t thought of that before.Post Views: 476
By Sean — 11 years ago
Nashi has officially hit the American mainstream. On Sunday the NY Times published an expose of the youth organization. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said before. In fact it is clear that the media has nothing new to add to what Nashi is except for repeating the fact that it is a Kremlin tool. I would figure that this is quite obvious. I’m more interested in how the organization actually functions on the ground. That said, I think the best statement was from Yabloko youth leader, Ilya Yashin. He told the Times,
“The authorities may face serious problems because all the young people whom they teach today, in whom they invest, whom they teach to organize mass actions, may find themselves in the real opposition when they see that their interests are violated. Today they are loyal, but tomorrow they may become the opposition. And this may not be the young Red Guard’s Cultural Revolution, like in China, but something much more serious.”
I think he is right on. Such is the dilemma of arousing and then having the audacity to think you can actually control populism.
But what really struck me is how the article opened. It reads:
Yulia Kuliyeva, only 19 and already a commissar, sat at a desk and quizzed each young person who sat opposite her, testing for ideological fitness to participate in summer camp.
“Tell me, what achievements of Putin’s policy can you name?” she asked, referring to Russia’s president since 2000, Vladimir V. Putin.
“Well, it’s the stabilization in the economy,” the girl answered. “Pensions were raised.”
“And what’s in Chechnya?” Ms. Kuliyeva asked, probing her knowledge of a separatist conflict that has killed tens of thousands and, although largely won by Russia’s federal forces and Chechen loyalists, continues.
“In Chechnya, it’s that it is considered a part of Russia,” the girl responded.
“Is this war still going on there?”
“No, everything is quiet.”
Ms. Kuliyeva is a leader in the Ideological Department of Nashi, the largest of a handful of youth movements created by Mr. Putin’s Kremlin to fight for the hearts and minds of Russia’s young people in schools, on the airwaves and, if necessary, on the streets.
I sure wish the Times would have questioned this obvious charade. I doubt your average Nashi member has such ideological prowess. In fact, Kuliyeva’s question and answer session reminded me of a document I found in the Komsomol archive. Such ideological questioning was common in Komsomol admissions and expulsion trials. Mine comes from an expulsion trial. I believe it is probably more indicative of not only your average Komsomol member at the time but also even symbolic of your average Nashi member’s ideological awareness.
The document dates from 1926. On trial was one Klishin, born in 1904, an unemployed peasant, and joined the Komsomol in 1923. Klishin was also charged with neglecting his studies, playing ill to get out of them, and for “rowdiness and drunkenness.” Here is what the Moscow Raikom expulsion commission asked Klishin to determine his guilt:
Were you drunk in the washroom?
What kind of work did you do in the Komsomol since 1923?
I was a member of the cell bureau.
What did you do as a bureau member and what was your responsibilities?
They didn’t give me any responsibilities.
What else did you do?
I did literary work, gave reports on Komsomol activism.
How do you express your Komsomol activism?
I encourage worker youth to join the League.
When was the 14th Party Congress?
I don’t know.
Which Party Congress was in 1925?
What is KIM (Communist Youth International)?
Dictatorship of Komsomol.
What newspapers do you read?
I read but I haven’t for a month.
Who is Stalin?
I don’t know.
The last one was the ringer. To say the least, Klishin was expelled from the Komsomol. I wonder is Nashi has its own expulsion process to deal with their riffraff.Post Views: 203