This week’s edition of In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg focuses on the life and times of Stalin’s “Barefoot Scientist” Trofim Lysenko. As always it is a thoughtful and interesting discussion not only on how a fraud like Lysenko could rise in Stalin’s Russia, but also the regime’s general relationship to science, particularly to genetics. The discussion features Robert Service, Professor of Russian History at the University of Oxford, Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College London, and Catherine Merridale, Professor of Contemporary History at Queen Mary, University of London. You can listen to the program here.
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- By Sean — 2 years ago
- By Sean — 11 years ago
I attended the AAASS National Convention this past weekend in New Orleans. I participated on two panels. A roundtable titled “Youth’s ‘Janus-Face Nature’: Youth and History in Russia/Soviet/Russia” and a panel called “Looking into the Past, Preparing for the Future: Civil War, Generations, and the Militarization of Soviet Youth, 1918-1941.” (The convention’s full program can be found here.) I co-organized both with Matthias Neumann, a young scholar who works on the Komsomol from University of East Anglia in Britain. Both panels were well received, though not well attended. This is expected since each of the conference’s twelve sessions, which spanned from Thursday afternoon to Sunday noon, had so many panels, that low attendance is a given unless you are a big name or work on some ultra-trendy topic. There was a visible increase in panels on media–film, television, and radio. Panels on Imperial Russian history were few. The Soviet period dominated in history. Predictably, the those that featured gore and ultra-violence were heavily attended. Panels on the Terror, Collectivization, and violence in Russia in general were packed. Especially if scholars like Lynne Viola, Ronald Suny, Norman Naimark, Sheila Fitzpatrick, J. Arch Getty, and other “celebrity” scholars.
Academic conferences are odd places. You really get a sense of how small the Slavic scholar community really is. More importantly, you realize how compartmentalized it is in regard to period, topic, theme and discipline. Panels are rarely multidisciplinary. Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Russia tend to not cross paths. There is a growing Central Asian and Caucuses contingent but they seem to still be looking for where they fit in all this. Many of them go to the Middle East Studies Association conference, which is unfortunately at the same time as AAASS. Though general attendance was probably well over 1000, you quickly realize that the topics are either so specialized or esoteric that they could only appeal to experts. Conferences in general are probably one of the few places were so many people with shared interests, though with divergent opinions, are concentrated in one place. But I guess that is the point.
There is nothing too exciting to report. The conference is far to large to give an overall impression. Plus the whole thing is quite exhausting. Though it was nice to see some friends that I only get to see this time of year, I’m glad that such an event is only once a year. One high point was Sunday morning at the book exhibits. Despite promises that I wouldn’t buy any books, I took advantage of 50% discounts many publishers offer on the last day of the convention. Of the several books I bought, the ones that excite me the most are Alexander Rabinowitch’s third installment to his trilogy on the Russian Revolution, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd, Abby Shrader’s Languages of the Lash: Corporal Punishment and Identity in Imperial Russia, and Douglas Weiner’s Models Of Nature: Ecology, Conservation, and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia.
As for New Orleans itself, time didn’t permit me to take in the city as much as I hoped. However, a walk through the French Quarter is enough to see that the city is still recovering from Katrina. The city is depopulated. Many restaurants and shops in the Quarter still remain shut down or open intermittently. When and if they are open, they tend to be empty. I thought of going on a “disaster tour” but refrained because I couldn’t morally justify paying money to view misery. The few looks I did get of the city, it made me want to read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism even more.
At any rate, a shout out to all my friends. And apologies to all the people I didn’t see or didn’t give ample time. See ya all next year in Philly.
- By Sean — 11 years ago
Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the Russian liberal opposition. Not only do they seem to be out of touch with the sentiments of the population, or seem to offer any alternative to Putinism, they also appear prone to something I call historical transfiguration.
Take for example, what “parallels” Grigory Yavlinsky of Yabloko, Leonid Gozman of SPS, and Garry Kasparov of Other Russia see between the Russia of 1917 and Russia of 2007. Yavlinsky said that some of those parallels are “the dominance of corruption and bureaucracy, the absence of inner mechanisms for modernization, the absence of economic and political competition, the absence of a mechanism for the government’s renewal, and the absence of the chance to form a responsible and efficient opposition.” Gozman thinks that like in 1917, today’s rulers have an “absolute feeling of stability, and the tsar also had it. In addition, the opposition is being ousted toward revolution, and the tsar did not want to discuss anything as well. He had his own truth, and this was quite enough for him.” And never to be outdone, Kasparov claims that the “analogies with 1916-1917 are quite explicit.” “The Objective tensions are rising in society,” he explained, “and this is exactly what serves as the main engine of revolutionary processes. For instance, a gap between the rich and the poor has reached an unimaginable size.”
I don’t know what history books these three are reading. Because they leave out one crucial factor: World War I. The war was the number one issue in 1917. All of the instabilities that the above three speak of were exacerbated by it. Russia’s failure at the front is what made the difference between revolution and protest. The Revolution would have gone nowhere without soldiers willingly, and often happily, turning their guns on their officers. Take for example these Okhrana reports from 26 February 1917:
“In the vicinity of the Church of Christ the Saviour, the 4th company met a mounted patrol of 10 policemen; the soldiers abused the policemen, calling them “pharaohs,” and firing several volleys at them, killing one police man and one horse, and wounding one policeman and one horse. Then the soldiers returned to the barracks, where they staged a mutiny. Colonel Eksten came to put it down and was wounded by one of the soldiers; his hand was cut off.”
That same day, Okhrana agents also reported:
“As the military unites did not oppose the crowds, and in certain cases even took measures tending to paralyze the initiative of police officials, as for two days the mobs wandered unhindered about the streets, and as the revolutionary circles advanced slogans: “Down with the war” and “Down with the Government”–the people became convinced that the revolution had started, that success was on the side of the mobs, that the Government was powerless to suppress the movement because the military units were on the side of the latter, that a decisive victory was in sight because in the very near future the military units would opening join the revolutionary forces.”
It was actions like these, not just in Petrograd, but also at the front which made the Russia Revolution, as one scholar argued, essentially a mass soldiers’ revolt.
Moreover, it is no secret that the key to the Bolshevik’s taking power in November 1917 stemmed from the fact that they controlled almost the entire Petrograd garrison and had solid support among soldiers at the front. This why 66.9% of soldiers at the Western front cast their Constituent Assembly votes for the Bolsheviks.
Russian oppositionists might remember these historical facts before they try to draw “parallels” between Russian in 1917 and Russia now. After all, believing in their own analysis of 1917 might end them up on the wrong side of the gun.