Some of you might remember review Maya Haber and I wrote of Miriam Dobson‘s book Khrushchev’s Cold Summer: Gulag Returnees, Crime, and the Fate of Reform After Stalin. Now there’s an interview I did with Miriam about the book on the New Books in Russian and Eurasian Studies site.
Subscribe via Itunes.
You Might also like
By Sean — 9 years ago
Yesterday, December 1, was 75 years since the assassination of Sergei Kirov, the first secretary of the Leningrad Party Organization, and Stalin ally. It was on the night of December 1, 1934 that a certain Leonid Nikolaev, a disgruntled party worker, shot Kirov in the secretary’s third floor office. Nikolaev was immediately caught and interrogated under Stalin’s personal supervision. He was executed shortly thereafter.
Rumors have been circling for years as to what Nikolaev’s motives were. Some have suggest that Kirov was having an affair with Nikolaev’s wife. Others have suggested that he had a personal or work beef with Kirov. These questions remain mostly unanswered. Partly it is because they are unanswerable. But also because the majority of historians believe that Nikolaev did not act alone. For them, Stalin was the main culprit and wanted to get rid of Kirov because of his popularity. Since Kirov has been held up as a “moderate” and even “opponent” to Stalin. Nikolaev, therefore, was merely a patsy in a more sinister plot on the part of the vozhd to justify the use of terror against his enemies, real or imagined.
The idea that Stalin had ordered Kirov’s murder was not solely concocted by historians. According to NKVD reports, it was also one of the most widespread rumors at the time. But it wasn’t the only one circulating around. As Matthew Lenoe noted in an article on the historiography of the murder in the Journal of Modern History, rumors ranged from Leningrad NKVD chief F. D. Medved or his number two Mikhail Chudov personally committing or ordering Kirov’s assassination, to German, Finnish, Polish, or Turkish secret agents carrying out the plot, to speculation that a worker angered by the recent cuts in bread rations did Kirov in. Others thought that the killing was part of a larger plot of murder Maxim Gorky, Lazar Kaganovich, and the German Communist leader Ernst Thaelmann. But the idea that Stalin was behind it all swirled and swirled from mouth to ear, into exiled socialist commentary, on to the pages of defectors’ and so-called confidants’ tell-all memoirs, until it reached scholarly dictum through its reproduction ad nauseum by historians.
A minority of historians, most interestingly Oleg Khlevniuk and Alla Kirilina, who are no Stalin apologists and based their research on new archival evidence, have argued that the Stalin as culprit is “almost entirely myth,” according to Lenoe. The debate continues to rage, however, and will probably go on forever. But as Lenoe notes, ” In the end it does not matter for our overall understanding of Soviet history whether [Stalin] plotted Kirov’s assassination or not. There are far more important questions that need answering in the field.”
Indeed. Whether Stalin actually ordered the hit on Kirov doesn’t erase the fact that regime’s response to the assassination was a blind fit of violence that led to the arrests and execution of hundreds, if not thousands, in the weeks following, culminating in the eventual arrest, trial, and execution of Grigorii Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, the so-called “Moscow Center.” The lives of hundreds of thousands of others followed. There is also no doubt that Stalin used the Kirov’s assassination to his political advantage to eliminate his political opponents. We don’t need to pin the Kirov murder on him to recognize that.
Perhaps, the biggest lesson of the Kirov murder was not its use by Stalin from 1936-38 to justify terror. The lesson is in the quick adoption of “On Amending the Present Union-Republic Codes of Criminal Procedure” or the so-called Kirov Law on December 1, 1934, that gave terror legal justification. The law was as follows:
To amend the present Union Republic codes of criminal procedure with regard to investigation and trial of cases of terrorist organizations and terrorist acts against the functionaries of Soviet power:
- Investigation in these cases shall be concluded in not more than ten days.
- The indictment shall be handed to the accused 24 hours before the trial.
- The cases shall be tried without the parties present.
- There shall be no cassational review of the judgments or acceptance of petitions for clemency.
- The sentence of the supreme punishment shall be executed immediately upon rendering judgment.
This law is ominous in its brevity. It is this law that was the first legal step to wage terror. What the law giveth, the law taketh away. So in the end it is not Kirov’s assassination that should be remembered but how such events can provide the justification for extraordinary measures to be legally enacted. It is a reminder that the “state of exception” is always enacted by the sovereign in an attempt to preserve the “public good.”Post Views: 2,111
By Sean — 3 years ago
I learned this morning from my Facebook feed that the Academic Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION) caught on fire destroying the third floor and causing the roof to cave in. There are conflicting reports on whether any of INION’s library perished in the flames. Vladimir Fortov, the president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Kommersant that 15 percent of the materials in INION were damaged. However, the institute’s director Yuri Pivovarov told TASS that “The depositories were not harmed—the building was damaged and the employees of the institute have nowhere to work.” He credited the 147 firefighters who fought the blaze for saving the books. “These guys (the firefighters) did everything they could to save the books. What remains, I think, we will rebuild.” Let’s hope so. Still the situation is catastrophic. Fortov summed things up: “This is a major library in the world. Unique materials are collected there and its scientific work is arranged so that every Russian scientific institute uses this library. To us, all this resembles Chernobyl.”
This is not just a major loss for Russian academia; it’s a tragedy for international social sciences. INION is one of Russia’s best libraries. For those not familiar with its academic importance, INION’s library was founded in 1918 and houses over 14 million books, rare texts in ancient Slavic languages, documents from the League of Nations, UNESCO, the United Nations, the International Labor Organization, and reports from the legislatures of the United States, England, Italy and others since 1789. INION is also part of an international interlibrary loan system with 874 institutions spanning 69 countries. INION hosts the German Historical Institute Moscow and the Center for Franco-Russia Research as well. Last time I was there, it also housed two excellent academic bookstores, a ROSSPEN store and another I can’t remember the name of or locate on the internet.
The cause of the fire, it seems, was a short circuit in the electrical system. Moscow fire officials conducted an inspection of the institute in March 2014, fined 70,000 rubles, and gave it until January 30, 2015 to get things up to snuff. Whether the institute’s management made the repairs or not is unknown. Looks like all that doesn’t matter anymore . . .
I have really fond memories of working at INION during my dissertation research. It was a great alternative to the crowdedness of the Lenin Library. It was adjacent to a metro, had a comprehensive catalog and rich holdings, easy to navigate and a great cafeteria to boot. I also bought a lot of books from its bookstores. You couldn’t ask for more in a library. It will take a long time for INION to be a functioning library again, if ever. All I can say is what a tragedy.Post Views: 904
By Sean — 6 years ago
Josh Sanborn has written a lengthy and detailed reply to my post on open access. I’m not planning to respond as I think it further reiterates the economic challenges of open access. I do want to draw attention to it. Here’s a snippet:
The Finch Report is a set of recommendations created by a British governmental working group headed by Dame Janet Finch entitled “Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications.” It recommends that all academic work be made available free to the public on the internet and that the costs associated with the production of such works be borne by their authors. This is a mind-numbingly foolish solution, as many British academics and the AHA have pointed out, but the Finch Report at least clarifies something that, occasionally, airy discussions about open access neglect: nothing is free. Again, this point is well addressed in the comments to Sean’s blog, but it’s worth reiterating. Whenever you hear the word “free” in any discussion on open access, you should substitute the word “subsidized.” One of the remarkable things about the economics of academic publishing at present is that much of that subsidization takes place invisibly, as many (though not all) academics both write journal articles and referee them without the expectation of piece by piece remuneration. This willingness to work without direct pay creates the possibility for much greater access than the public sphere currently enjoys. And most scholars want to create greater access. In contrast to Sean, I think that most of us and most of our institutions give greater weight to widely distributed journals than they do to those with a smaller reach. It is not my impression that publishing in the American Historical Review, a high subscription journal, is less prestigious than publishing in a smaller venue.
Still, all of this intellectual work is subsidized. The research for the articles is often underwritten by institutions of various sorts. Further, universities and colleges expect professors to be a part of a professional dialogue, and many of them include authoring journal articles and refereeing them as labor that falls under our job descriptions. Some, like my own institution, consider this work carefully when deciding upon merit raises. Others do not. But this doesn’t mean there is no subsidy, just that there is a massive free rider problem at play in any college or university faculty. Thought of more broadly (but not of course literally), we might say that society pays for part of the production of scholarly articles through block grants to professor salary pools rather than piece by piece. Part of it is also paid for by independent scholars and professors who lack institutional support and/or living working wages for the work they do and essentially subsidize the enterprise through their own uncompensated time.
You can read the full post here.Post Views: 796