A rather strange article appears in today’s Johnson’s Russia List #53 and I’m not sure why. It’s a piece by Alice Gomstyn called “Where the Cold War Still Rages” from the February 6, 2004 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Gomstyn revisits the “totalitarian”/”revisionist” debate that has structured Russian historical studies in the United States for the last 25 years. I mention the article here because some readers might be interested especially since totalitarianism has recently appeared on this blog in conjunction with Khrushchev’s speech.
As a member of the so-called “post-revisionist” generation, I lament the passing relevance of this debate in Russian historical studies. When reading over that work one gets the sense that ideas mattered. The polemics that fueled it made the scholarship people were producing exciting. I can’t say the same for now. I just don’t see the debates over modernity, periodization, the (in)applicability of Foucault, the linguistic turn, etc as having as much punch as the totalitarian/revisionist debate. The creation of schools like the so-called “Soviet subjectivity school” out of the work of really two scholars seems manufactured and forced, if not down right lame. As does claims about the emergence of a “neo-totalitarian” school. They just leave me limp.
The only light I see at the end of this tunnel of boredom is perhaps some of the interesting scholarship being done of nationality and ethnicity. But until we see whether that scholarship will make an impact on the field, I will have to sit around and lose myself in nostalgia for more political charged times.
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By Sean — 4 months ago
By Sean — 10 years ago
There is a specter haunting Russia–the specter of colored revolution. Or so says Vladimir Putin. Clearly having no qualms about beating a dead horse, Putin told a Moscow campaign rally that shadowy Westerners are supporting oppositionists with hopes of returning Russia to the dark days of the 1990s. Here some quotes the Guardian has supplied:
“Unfortunately there are those people in our country who still slink through foreign embassies … who count on the support of foreign funds and governments but not the support of their own people.”
“There are those confronting us, who do not want us to carry out our plans because they have … a different view of Russia. They need a weak and feeble state. They need a disorganized and disorientated society … so that they can carry out their dirty tricks behind its back.”
“They are going to take to the streets. They have learned from western experts and have received some training in neighboring [former Soviet] republics. Now they are going to start provocations here.”
On the one hand, I get the hyperbolic pontificating. Much of electoral politics is about conjuring a bogeyman in hopes to scare the public into voting for you. And inciting public panic over orange clad revolutionaries, “islamo-fascists,” immigrants, homosexuals etc works well to mobilize voters. Demonizing the Other and then linking your opposition to it is a proven political tactic.
On the other hand, I can’t help chuckle at the Putin and United Russia’s excesses. First they ensured that the OSCE pull out of monitoring the elections. Limiting the number of observers, stalling visas, and placing restrictions on observers made the OSCE cancel their plans. Now Russian Electoral Commission chief Vladimir Churov claims that OSCE’s decision was their own, or more specifically the decision of the United States, which he says controls its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR. Again more bogeymen.
Plus Churov was quick to note that while the OSCE bowed out, other election monitoring organizations didn’t. Russia’s Duma elections will be “observed” by 300 monitors from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States. That’s about 25 observers per Russian time zone.
All of this points to the Russian propensity to overstate their efforts. The truth of the matter is that Russia can be flooded with election monitors and United Russia would still win. Even if the United Russia parliamentary margin will be less that desired, “Plan Putin” still maintains hegemony over Russian politics. No opposition party in real contention seeks to radically change course. Even the Communists are acclimated themselves to Putin’s Russia.
Sure, there may be something to Kremlin’s claim that they don’t need their elections verified by anyone and that sovereignty means not succumbing to outside meddling. But what all of this rhetorical and bureaucratic maneuvering really says to me is that Russia still hasn’t learned the democratic game. First, the game requires using money and advertising not so much to pummel your opponent, but control the boundaries of political discourse. The former is well done, the latter not so much. Here they might want to sneak a peak at the American Republican Party’s play book. They are masters at it. Second, the game requires the adept use of the law to mask corruption with good legal arguments. Lawyers have a knack for making something clearly illegal appear perfectly within the boundaries of the law. Postmodern politics have made armies of lawyers much more effective than detachments of police. Lastly, the game requires challenging anyone who criticizes you to do something about it. Yes, one aspect of sovereignty is about preventing meddling. But real sovereignty is when you have the confidence and fortitude to just ignore whatever critical salvos tossed at you.
So in the end, Russia should have let the OSCE come and monitor. And when the OSCE would make the inevitable cries of foul, Russia should just shrug its shoulders and promise to better next time. That’s what any other real democracy would do.Post Views: 66
By Sean — 12 years ago
One of the great things about having a university affiliation is that I have online access to all sorts of newspapers, journals and magazines. One such magazine is Russian Life. I’m not a regular reader. In fact, I know little about it and only stumbled upon it because its Jan/Feb issue features an interview with Sergo Anastasovich Mikoyan, the son of Anastas Ivanovich Mikoyan (1895-1978) on his memories of Khrushchev’s speech.
Since the interview is only available to subscribers, here are some of Sergo Mikoyan’s more interesting comments:
Did you sense the coming changes before the 20th Congress?
I knew what was happening. I knew the two people who made a huge contribution to Khrushchev’s decision to prepare and read the report at the Congress. Unfortunately, historians know almost nothing about these two people: Alexei Vladimirovich Snegov and Olga Grigorevna Shatunovskaya.
Snegov had been a member of the party since 1917, and in his youth was an organizer alongside [Vyacheslav] Molotov’s wife and even knew her before Molotov did. Then he was in party work, but in 1937 was working in my father’s apparatus and ended up in prison. In 1938, after [Lavrenty] Bena took the post of Narkom at the NKVD, a small number of people were let out of prison, Snegov among them. He came to my father and explained everything that had happened. My father recommended that he go to Sochi and check into a sanatorium and not come back [to Moscow] for as long as possible. He promised to inform Snegov when it would be safe to return, since he understood that Snegov’s release might end up being temporary. But Snegov, a confirmed Bolshevik, did something rather stupid. He said that he would go away only after his Party Card was returned to him. He was so insistent, that my father called [Matvey Fyodorovich] Skiryatov in the Party Control Commission and requested the swift return of Snegov’s Party Card, as he had just been released from prison. As soon as Snegov showed up to pick up his Party Card, he was once again arrested, and he returned [to freedom] only 17 years later. During this time, he passed through all of the circles of hell. They even led him off to be shot, but then did not shoot him. He was in Butyrka and Sukhanovo prisons. His back was covered with marks from floggings; he was missing a finger on one hand.
Olga Shatunovskaya worked with [Stepan] Shaumyan in Baku in 1918, and therefore knew my father from an early age. Then she worked in Moscow and met Khrushchev, and worked with him from 1936-7 in the Moscow Party Committee. She was also arrested, and spent some 10 years in the camps, then was exiled.
In 1954, both of these people returned to Moscow, and, with the help of Lev Shaumyan I Stepan Shaumyan’s son] succeeded in meeting with my father, talked with him and related what went on in the prisons. As strange as it may sound, much of this was unknown to my father. He had not any conception of the massive scale of the repressions. Olga related an interesting story about how, in one of the camps where she had been, there were ten thousand women. A Japanese spy was brought to the prison and she spoke very directly: “I am an actual spy. I know why I am in prison. But you cursed Bolsheviks are m prison for no reason whatsoever…”
Their stories had a great deal of influence on my father, and he related them to Khrushchev. In fact, to Snegov belongs the phrase, which both Khrushchev and my father used in their memoirs: “If you do not dissociate yourself from Stalin at the first Congress after his death, and if you do not recount his crimes, then you will become willing accomplices in these crimes.”
I was present when they told their stories, and I saw how my father was surprised and taken aback. When Olga Shatunovskaya spoke of the spy in the camp, he even called in my mother and said, “Ashkhen, come here, listen to what she is saying,” and he asked her to repeat her story.
In particular, it was under the influence of these stories that we understood that practically no one who was arrested was guilty of any crime. After the 20th Congress, my father created 93 commissions which visited the camps in order to free people. They did not consider individual cases but simply looked at the article of law in question. If an individual had been convicted under Article 58 for sabotage, terror, anti-Soviet opinions or actions, then he or she was immediately set free, because it was clear that there were no guilty parties convicted under this article.
I question whether Anastas Mikoyan was really that na?ve and ignorant of what was going on. After all he became a member of the Central Committee in 1923, and a member of the Politburo in 1935. And it was Mikoyan who hurled the following at Nikolai Bukharin at the February-March Central Committee Plenum in 1937:
One thing nobody can argue with. To know of terror against the leadership of the Party, of wrecking in our factories, of espionage, of Gestapo agents, and to say nothing about it to the Party—what is this?! He is a member of the Central Committee and a member of the Party. This is proved incontrovertibly, it is proved by the confrontations [with those confessing]; the materials in the presence of Politburo members proved that the rightist terroristic activities were known to the pupils of Bukharin, the partisans of Bukharin. They were known to Bukharin, he knew that they were preparing terrorist acts against the leadership of the Party, he knew and he did not tell the Central Committee. Is this permissible for a member of the Central Committee and a member of the Party?! It is proved and clear even to a blind man. (cited in J. Arch Getty, The Road to Terror, 369. The text was originally published in Voprosy istorii, 4-5, 1992, 22.)
Nevertheless, Mikoyan the younger does give some interesting information of how Khrushchev’s speech was prepared.
Did your father discuss with you how Khrushchev’s report on the Cult of Personality was prepared?
Up until the last minute there was a battle over this report. In the Presidium of the Central Committee, Molotov, Kaganovich and Voroshilov all spoke categorically against it being given. They proposed tabling it until a later date. Then they came up with another course of action: to delegate the preparation of this report to the editor of Pravda at that time, [Pyotr] Pospelov, thereby hoping to decrease the report’s significance. Pospelov was a Stalinist; he had selected materials for Stalin’s Short Count [History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course). But this Stalinist, working with the materials provided by the NKVD, could not hold back his tears. Khrushchev correctly understood the situation, however, that a report of such significance should be given by the top person in the Party, and he decided to deliver it himself.
What was the situation like in the Congress? Did people suspect the changes that were coming?
Prior to the report – some five or six days before – my father spoke at the Congress and sharply criticized Stalin. And there was quiet indignation in the hall. No one cried out, but my uncle, [the aircraft designer] Artyom Ivanovich, was a guest at the Congress. That evening, he came by the house and said: “Your father has made a huge mistake. He spoke critically of Stalin and the Party bosses sitting around me were quite upset. This could end badly for him.” He said the same thing to my father: “Anastas, you have made a huge mistake.” My father answered that such a reaction in the hall signifies that they even fear a dead man, but that soon they would hear much more. My father’s speech was a trial balloon. In truth, Molotov, Kaganovich and Voroshilov fought to the end. Their final condition was that the report be delivered only after the elections to the Central Committee and the Politburo. They feared that their role, as accomplices of Stalin, would have an effect on the outcome of the elections. Therefore, the final session of the Congress was held after elections to the leadership organs. The foreign delegations were not invited. It was a closed session. Representatives of socialist countries were later given a copy of the report in printed form.Post Views: 43