Jon Waterlow received his PhD in History at Oxford and went on to be a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow there. His book manuscript is tentatively titled “It’s Only A Joke, Comrade! Humor, Trust, And Everyday Life Under Stalin, 1929-1941.” He’s the co-editor of the forthcoming War Crimes Trials & Investigations: A Multi-Disciplinary Introduction to be published by Palgrave in a couple of months. Jon is also host of the podcast Voices in the Dark which features conversations and interviews about real life psychology, philosophy, psychedelics, spirituality, social dynamics and much more.
Man . . . or Astro-man?, “Philip K. Dick in the Pet Section of a Wal-Mart,” Project Infinity, 1995.
You Might also like
By Sean — 11 years ago
Anyone interested in the status of Russian archives should read the NY Times article, “Iron Archives.” However, some of its claims about the shrinking access to Russian archives should be put in context. For example, anything that is located in the infamous Presidential Archive is off limits, except if you have connections. I know a few scholars who’ve gotten special dispensation to work there. The Foreign Policy and Military archives (19th century materials are available) are also closed.
It is also true that the declassification process has been slowed. As the article points out and honest archivists will attest, this is mostly because the process has been formalized. The body in charge of declassification, the Commission on State Secrets, is under funded and understaffed. Add the lack of incentive to make documents open and the process slows to a crawl. But scholars shouldn’t take this as a sign that archival research on “sensitive subjects” is impossible. Sure military and foreign policy are out. Postwar Communist Party materials are also difficult to get your hands on.
also has a policy concerning personal files. They are only accessible after 75 years unless you have permission from the family. However, historians of some of the darkest moments in Soviet history will tell you that documentation about the Terror, Collectivization, deportation, and the GULAG are abundant. A lot of documentation in the Presidential Archive will only spice up footnotes and pad bibliographies. The new information they contain will mostly further confirm already existing materials. Also, in most archives a researcher with good connections can get classified material even if it is classified. But despite what anyone thinks, there is little left to know that the archives can tell us. I personally doubt that there are any smoking guns buried deep in even the most secret Russian archives. Access to them will only satisfy historians’ own archival fetish. Russia
Still, each Russian archive has its own rules and culture. State and Provincial Archives like the ones cited in the article fall under the laws and policies of Rosarkhiv, the State Archival Administration. Their rules specifically make statements about researchers’ rights to open materials. If all else fails, embarrassing archivist by citing these rules can sometimes works. Going straight to the director does too. The most difficult archives are the ones that are under city administrations. The Moscow City Archive for Social Movements is notoriously difficult. I think I was able to work there by charm alone.
The real problem with Russian archives is not reclassification or access. It is funding. The Komsomol archive where I work has had a staff reduction from 8 to 4 people. Many archives are housed in crumbling buildings or worse are considered prime real estate. Some, like the State Historical Archive in
, have been forced to move. As the main state archive for the 19th century, this is a huge blow to the history of the Imperial period. The lack of funding has also prevented archives from modernizing their reading rooms, purchasing copiers, microfilm readers, etc. The most modern archives are the ones like the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History and others who have signed publishing deals with Western publishers like Yale University Press. St. Petersburg
Lastly, Russian archives are beginning to suffer from a lack in training. Pay is incredibly low—about $100 a month. Most of the staff is either old, mentally deranged or both. Recent rules have reduced archival training to simply a certificate rather than a degree. The next generation of archivists will be poorly trained, paid, and therefore disinterested.
So put in this perspective the status of Russian archives is direr than the Western historians’ obsession with classification.
All this said, my favorite part of the whole article was the final quote from Robert Conquest. I quote the Times quoting him:
“There’s a drive of sorts toward the truth,” said Robert Conquest, the venerable cold warrior and author of “The Great Terror.” “After all, they didn’t really manage to totally suppress it the whole Soviet period, in spite of destroying the intelligentsia and ruining the country.”
It’s funny for a historian like him to speak about the truth. Especially coming from a guy who once declared that rumor was one of the best sources for understanding the
Soviet Union. Plus how would he know about suppressing the truth? To my knowledge, none of his books contain a single archival citation. There is some speculation around the field whether the man has ever stepped into a Russian archive at all.Post Views: 149
By Sean — 9 years ago
It turns out that Memorial’s court victory was short lived. According to Fotanka.ru, the St. Petersburg prosecutor appealed the Dzerzhinskii court’s February 24 ruling that went in Memorial’s favor.
My hope, even jubilation, that this circus was finally over was premature. The case will now go to court for the third time.
Irina Flige, the head of Memorial, told Ezhednevnyi zhurnal that the prosecutor’s office promised to begin returning the hard disks though there was no agreement on the procedure. “We must make sure that [the materials] are complete and that all the information is there, and that they are in working condition,” she said. She then added this interesting assessment of the situation,
It is not stated in the law how many times the prosecutor can appeal a court’s decision. The meaning is altogether obvious: The fact that the district and city court simply dealt out the pot [i.e. as in poker]. And as long as we can’t jump out of this circle, we can’t appeal the decision to a higher authority. As long as they play his game of “district court good, city court bad”, we can’t take any other steps. The first time this wasn’t clear, but now it has become clear. That is to say, even if the district court makes a bad ruling the second time, we will have the possibility of moving further because would would have some kind of decision. Our decisions do not go into legal force and we have nothing to appeal.
Does Flige mean that Memorial is stuck in a legal dance with the prosecutor, and as long as the courts rule in their favor, they are stuck at the district and city level? Maybe someone who knows Russian legal process can explain this.
In the meantime, Memorial is back at square one. No exact court date set for the next trial. This will be announced after April 10.
A third time’s a charm, I guess . . .Post Views: 129
By Sean — 11 years ago
“Bastards! (сволочи!)” For the last week a women who sits in front of me in the reading room has been cursing documents as she thumbed through files of Komsomol protocols and resolutions from the late 1980s. I finally found out what she is working on the other day.
“They are all thieves,” she told me yesterday during tea. “They stole from me and Russia. During Komsomol meetings they were diving up the property of cooperatives, allocating money for projects and themselves.” The “they” are Russia’s oligarchs, many of which have fled the country as exiles. “Khodorkovsky’s name is everywhere,” she told me pointing to a document from 1991 that details funds going to one of the oil cooperatives and banks he “owned.” The protocol in the document allocated to him over a million dollars.
“You know,” I told her “many in the United States consider people like Khodorkovsky are considered heroes of democracy.” “Well, here they are all thieves.” And it was no wonder, she added, because Khodorkovsky was tied to American banks in the early 1990s.
This woman is working on an article she hopes to publish in Der Spiegel. The story of how leading cadres in the Komsomol allocated property to themselves is a fascinating story. It is a perfect picture of what might call primitive capitalist accumulation with all the theft, swindle and blood that goes with it. Everybody knows how elites the Communist Party, like Gazprom’s Viktor Chernomyrdin became instant billionaires. What is less known is how Communist Youth League cooperatives were used in the 1980s as a means to marketize the Soviet economy.
Gorbachev’s idea was good natured but na?ve. By rehabilitating the ideas of Nikolai Bukharin, Gorbachev hoped to revitalize the executed Bolshevik’s slogan “Enrich Yourselves!” and his ideas about socialist competition. Like in the 1920s, Komsomol cooperatives of the 1980s were subjected to market principles to foster competition with state enterprises. The competition, it was believed, would increase productivity and production quality. It is now called Komsomol capitalism.
Komsomol cooperatives were based in two industries: construction and technology. But archival documents might reveal a much wider breath of entrepreneurship. From the few documents, I was shown, the Komsomol was allocating funds to oil, banking, and publishing, all of which were run and later owned by key Komsomol cadres. This of course wasn’t Gorbachev’s idea. His idea was that using the Komsomol to experiment with market reforms was politically safe. The Party pumped funds into the organization for it to set up cooperatives. In the case of technology, it was hard currency since Komsomol members would buy old computer equipment from the West and refurbish it for big profits.
By the time the Soviet system collapsed, the now redundant Komsomol was awash with cash. The players in the organization quickly appropriated it and set up the first banks, and therefore were the first ones that had the ability to give credit. The Komsomol oligarchs also made out big in the privatization scandals of the 1990s where they took privatization shares for loans. The result was that many, like Khodorkovsky, became the owners of recently privatized state enterprises.
“I’ll take these documents to court if I have to,” the woman told me with hopes that an article based on archival documents will bring some justice. In fact, some of the documents she’s looking at were used in Khodorkovsky’s conviction. “The strange thing is that he didn’t believe he was guilty. This is why he didn’t flee to Israel or America like the others. But how could he think he was innocent!? His name is all over these documents. And there were laws on cooperatives that prevented their privatization. And the Komsomol was after all a social organization and therefore not theirs to take.”Post Views: 310