Julia Herzberg and Christoph Schmidt, eds., From We to I: The Individual and the Autobographical Genre in the Tsarist Empire/Vom Wir zum Ich: Individuum und Autobiographik im Zarenreich.
Brigitte Studer and Heiko Haumann, eds., Stalinistische Subjekte/Sujets staliniens/Stalinist Subjects: Individuum und System in der Sowjetunion und der Komintern, 1929-1953 [Individual and System in the Soviet Union and the Comintern, 1929-53]. 555 pp. Zurich: Chronos, 2006. ISBN-13 978-3034007368. CHF 68.00.
Subjectivity is the order of the day, and accordingly the study of memoirs, diaries, letters, and other "ego-documents" is flourishing. Soviet historians in the United States set the trend, but here we bave two valuable European contributions. Vom Wir zum Ich, a collection of articles on the self and self-representation in Russia in the tsarist period edited by Julia Herzberg and Christoph Schmidt, celebrates 50 years of the study of East European (including Russian) history at the University of Cologne; it contains 15 contributions, all in German, from 12 authors. Stalinistische Subjekte, edited by the Swiss scholars Brigitte Studer and Heiko Haumann, deals with the Stalin period both in the Soviet Union and in the Comintern and international communist movement; its 24 contributions are in German, English, and French, with a substantial editors' introduction in both German and English and abstracts of each essay in English at the back.
Julia Herzberg's excellent opening contribution in Vom Wir zum Ich, a 47-page article on "The Autobiographical as a Historical Source in 'East' and 'West,'" deserves to be translated and used as an introductory text in the courses on Russian autobiography that have proliferated in the United States in the past ten years, for there is no comparable historical and analytic study in English. Herzberg notes the peculiarities of the genre of Russian memoirs, which bas historically tended to be less a self-exploration than some sort of commentary on public lire: in Alexander Herzen's formulation, a way of conveying to posterity those things that might otherwise (because of the workings of the censorship) remain hidden. For all the memoirists' disinclination to explore the personal, however, Russian historians have often viewed memoirs as a dangerously subjective historical source, not to be compared in terms of solidity and respectability with the bureaucratic, legal, and statistical documents in state archives. In the 1920s, Soviet Marxist historians briefly departed from this pattern with their collection of workers' and revolutionaries' memoirs--valuable, as one contributor to the contemporary journal Proletarskaia revoliutsiia remarked, not "in connection with the personality of their author, but only in their relation to a particular epoch of party life" (50)--whose great virtue was that they compensated for the lacunae and blases of imperial state archives. But this moment soon passed, and a stern attitude to the non-representative and subjective character of memoirs prevailed through much of the postwar period, waning only in the 1980s. Then came perestroika, with its extraordinary burst of enthusiasm for memoirs, especially memoirs of the Great Purges, as an aid to rethinking Soviet history. By the 1990s, the wheel had come full circle from the 1920s, as the "particular credibility and authenticity" of memoirs was contrasted with the lacunae and biases of Soviet state archives.
The Herzberg article also contains discussion of the useful concept of "ego-documents," used more widely in Europe than in the Anglophone world and defined in the 1950s by its originator, the Netherlands historian Jacob Presser, as "historical sources of a personal character" in which "the I that writes and the subject that is written about are the same" (17). This is followed by an account of German discussions on self-framing (Selbstthematisierung) and testimony about the self (Selbstzeugnisse) that non-German readers unfamiliar with the work ofAlois Hahn and other German theorists should find particularly helpful. The volume also contains an interesting historiographical essay by Alexander Kraus on identity studies, focused particularly on theoretical contributions from European sociologists and historians such as Maurice Halbwachs, Lutz Niethammer, and Alois Hahn. For those interested in this topic, the introduction to Studer and Haumann's Stalinist Subjects contains more discussion of Alois Hahn and his concept of "biography-generators," meaning the forms and ways of telling lives (for example, religious confession, psychoanalysis, diaries, memories, questionnaires) that are available in a particular cultural setting.
The bulk of the contributions in the Herzberg/Schmidt volume are studies ofa particular set of ego-documents: Petr S. Stefanovic on some late 17th-century personal letters between Pskov and England; Christoph Schmidt on the religious opinions and practices reflected in Ivan Annenkov's diaries; Angelika Schmahling on the autobiography of the Freemason Anna Labzina (1758-1828); Anna Veronika Wendland on the life story of a serf, Avdotiia Khrushcheva, as set down by a member of the family for whom she worked; Birta Kohtz on the theme of love and marriage in Anna Pavlovna Vygodskaia's memoirs; Frank Wolff on the memoirs of two Bundists, Vladimir Medern and Hersch Mendel. In his essay on the memoirs of a Siberian doctor, Anna Bek (1869-1954), Andreas Renner sees Bek as framing her life story in terms ofa recognizable "collective identity," that of the woman doctor (zhen-shchina-vrach). Typically for a Russian woman's autobiography, the personal is secondary in Bek's story. Her husband, Evgenii Bek, is portrayed warmly if somewhat abstractly as a doctor dedicated to his work and the service of the people; but, as someone for whom work (career) was paramount, Anna "identifies herself with and not through her husband" (254).
Although ego-documents are a promising source for study of another currently fashionable topic, the history of the emotions, the only contribution in the Herzberg/Schmidt volume to use them in this way is Alexander Kraus's essay on Andrei Timofeevich Bolotov, which explores the emotions that figure most prominently in the "feelings-worlds" (Gefuhlswelten) of Bolotov's diary: sadness, shame, passion, anger. The essay includes a useful survey of German-, French-, and English-language historiography on the emotions and some interesting comments from Kraus on the theoretical issues involved. As he points out, if we are to think seriously as historians about memory, we can scarcely ignore the issue of emotion, as "only what was felt is anchored in memory" (145).
Peasants are not usually prolific diarists, but the Vom Wir zu Ich contributors have managed to find a couple of fascinating examples. The title of Roland Cvetkovski's contribution--"Ich, Salagin! Person, Individualitat und Identitat eines russischen Bauernjungen" (I, Shalagin! The Personality, Individuality, and Identity of a Young Russian Peasant)--captures some ofthe excitement that writing had for the subject, a young man in the Vologda region (b. 1897) with four years of zemstvo schooling. In his diary and the letters home written when he was working in St. Petersburg, Shalagin expresses both homesickness for the village and a critical distance from it.
Julia Herzberg's peasant subject, Ivan Stepanovich Rassychaev (1878-1968), was also from the North; he not only kept a diary for much of his life but also recorded his dreams, which, at least in his early lire, he regarded as sent from God. Rassychaev seems less interested than Shalagin in commenting upon his social surroundings and more interested in exploring himself, albeit in the traditional sense of a self in relationship to God. One of his most striking dreams comes from the 1920s, when Rassychaev was working as a clerk for the local soviet, and expresses his uneasiness at serving an atheistic regime. In his dream, Jesus was on trial in a Soviet court for spreading religious propaganda and claiming to be a god. A statement of the accusations against him lay on the table and, as Jesus was assumed to be illiterate, Rassychaev was asked to sign on his behalf, which, after receiving an ambiguous sign of permission, he did. Rassychaev awoke with a sense of horror, remembering Jesus's reproach to the apostles at the Last Supper and fighting off the thought that, like Judas, he had betrayed his Lord.
The introduction to Stalinist Subjects by Brigitte Studer and Heiko Haumann positions their volume in a context of recent cultural-historical and historical anthropological studies, specifically those of the Stalinist subject by Jochen Hellbeck, Igal Halfin, and others. The old dichotomy of state and society is outdated, they write; "in its place has come the recognition that as a form of social organization Stalinism required not merely outward, formal conformity but personal participation, loyalty, and commitment" (39). So far, one might say from a North American perspective, so familiar, but the novelty ofthe Studer/Haumann volume lies in the fact that its scope is not limited to the Soviet Union but also includes the Comintern and foreign communist parties. They write that their focus is on "the relationship between the individual and the system in the Soviet Union" (39--italics mine), a formulation that suggests that they may have liberated themselves from only one of the Great Reifications of our field, for it seems to imply that the systern has a monopoly on agency: the questions to be answered include "how did the Soviet state produce its subjects? ... And, from the side ofthe subject, what normative standards had people to meet under Stalinism?" (39).
Of course, as anyone who has read collected and conference volumes will know, the editors' statements of theme rarely apply to all contributors, some of whom may disagree with and others ignore the issues that are dear to the editors' hearts; and this large, multi-authored volume is no exception. Only a handful of contributors seem concerned with the theoretical issues involved in the study of self. One of them is Igal Halfin ("Stalin's Purges and the Question of Belief"), who puts forward a "Stalinist subjectivity" manifesto notable for its caricatured presentation of his bete noir, "resistance" scholarship, which he imagines to proceed from the assumption that any critic of any aspect of Soviet life was necessarily "in favour of formal democracy and economic liberalism" (242). The point for Halfin is not that some Soviet citizens had grievances which they may or may not have generalized into a generally critical private attitude to the regime, but rather that "they" had no private sphere to retreat to and could think only in official "Soviet" terms. Halfin's "they" is always a problem. Specifically, in this article, "they" are Communists under the extreme pressures of the Great Purges. But Halfin seems to take it for granted, for reasons he does not fully explain, that the subjectivity of this particular group, in these particular circumstances, has a special status as the Stalinist subjectivity.
Another contributor, Donald Filtzer, sharply dissociates himself from the "Stalinist subjectivity" approach, whose subtext, he suspects, amounts to "an attempt to prove that the Soviet population fully embraced Stalinism, and that Stalinism succeeded in building a broadly based popular consensus and support" (100). Fikzer, a political economist interested in collective rather than individual behaviors, comes close to a "resistance" approach in his characterization of Stalinist society as "recalcitrant" (112), while a similar sense is conveyed by Jean-Paul Depretto's invocation of the concept of Eigensinn (from Alf Liidtke) in his essay on worker opinion in Nizhnyi Novgorod during the First Five-Year Plan (in French).
Among the contributors who address the theme of Stalinist subjectivity directly are those dealing with the Comintern: Brigitte Studer in her 'iLiquidate the Errors or Liquidate the Person? Stalinist Party Practices as Techniques of the Self" (in English) and Alexander Vatlin (in German) on "The Influence of the Great Terror on the Mentality of the Comintern Leadership: Personal Experience and Patterns of Behavior." This serves as a reminder of the obvious point that the (only?) people who cared about the proposition that "the Party is always right," with its logical consequence that individuals could not be right "against the Party," were Communists and Komsomol members; and that, within this world, it was the foreign communist emigres in Moscow who cared most. Nowhere were the demands for total obidience and quasi-mystical veneration of the Party taken as seriously as in the international party schools: as Wolfgang Leonhardt's classic description (in Child of the Revolution, oddly omitted from the bibliography) makes clear, these isolated, self-enclosed institutions became a kind of reductio ab absurdurn of party mores. As long as the foreign comrades were trapped in their hermetically sealed bubble in Moscow, it no doubt appeared natural, or at least necessary, to accept without question the highly ritualized, formalistic, and dogmatic communism offered to them. It was another matter, however, once the comrades were back home again: for ail their obedience to "the Party line," the Anglophone comrades, in particular, often showed traces of skepticism--or perhaps simply embarrassment--about Moscow's more baroque ritual efflorescences.
Within the Soviet context, Communists were, of course, a minority of the population; for the "non-party" majority, thinking and behaving like a Communist was, at best (as with Stepan Podlubnyi), a sometime thing. Here it is salutary to bear in mind Gennadii Andreev-Khomiakov's observation (quoted by Mary Buckley in her essay in this volume, "The Stalinist Subject and Gender Dimensions," in English) that in his provincial town "we could at times forget about the Party, and the Party only occasionally remembered itself" (346), as well as to heed Buckley's reminder that "in the 1930s there was highly uneven penetration by the Party and Komsomol of towns, invariably thinner far away from Moscow, and especially in villages. In fact, in some villages, there was barely any party or Komsomol presence" (346-47). Gabor Rittersporn makes a similar point in his article ("Soviet Citizens between Indignation and Resignation: Loyalty and Lost Hope in the USSR," in English), when he points out that an individual statement of euphoric identification with the Soviet regime is "no guarantee ... that [the utterer] continued to be so euphoric for the rest of his life" (136). Pace Halfin et al, there was not just one "subjectivity" in the Soviet Union in Stalin's time, and even the subjectivity of one individual was liable to change (or shift within a repertoire of subjectivities) over time.
In a volume of this kind, one might expect many of the contributions to be close analyses of ego-documents, as in the Herzberg/Schmidt volume, but in fact there are comparatively few of them, and all are in part 5, dealing with "Experiencing Violence: Memory and Identity." This violence focus may be accidental, but it is consistent with a tendency in recent scholarship to equate "memory" in a Soviet context with memory of horrors (vide, for example, Catherine Merridale's Night of Stone and Orlando Figes's The Whisperers). (1) Conceptually, the most ambitious of the ego-document analyses is Heiko Haumann's "Coping with Violence under Stalinism: Samples of Autobiographical Narratives and Interpretive Methods" (in German), which deals with memories recounted by the son of a Great Purge victim and the fear and psychic trauma that remains with him. In addition, the volume contains Eva Maeder's "Career and Punishment: The Life of a Communist in a Siberian Old Believers' Village during Collectivization" (in English), in which the author struggles to understand how her narrator-subject, interviewed in 1996, "not only approves of the results of collectivization, but also centres his biography on this event" and even "still speaks about his life the way the party has taught him" (429). Carmen Scheide's essay, "Collective and Individual Patterns of Commemoration of the 'Great Patriotic War' (1941-1945)" (in German), contrasts the diaries and letters of Irina Ehrenburg and the aviatrix Marina Chechneva; and Kaline Hoffmann reports on the memoirs of Polish men and women who found themselves in the Gulag ("The Experience of "Another World': Poles inside the Gulag, 19391942" [in German]).
In the same section, Sergei Zhuravlev supplies an interesting account of "American Victims of the Stalin Purges, 1930s" (in English). Though this is a story of what happened rather than about subjective experience, it merits particular attention because of the revelation that, on George Kennan's initiative, the U.S. Embassy kept "black lists" of Americans in Moscow who were sympathizets with the Communists. These people, Kennan argued, had received "de facto naturalization" in the Soviet Union by virtue of their communist sympathies, essentially abrogating their rights as American citizens, and were therefore no longer entitled to protection by the U.S. Embassy. It appears that Kennan's black list (95 names on the first version, which Zhuravlev found in State Department files) was, as he instructed, circulated to American consular officers, which may explain the embassy's apparent indifference to the plight ofthe Moscow-resident Americans who desperately sought its protection in 1937-38 and its failure to protest even when they were arrested outside the embassy gates.
The most original and thought-provoking contribution in the volume is perhaps Yves Cohen's "The Co-Construction of Bureaucracy and the Person: The Subjectivity of Stalin and of the Soviet Industrial Managers Derived from New Insights into the Sources (1930s)" (in French). He makes two interesting general propositions. The first is that we should look for evidence of subjectivity and construction of self not only in ego-documents, where people talk or write about themselves, but also in "the forms of engagement of individuals in their public acts" (178); the source he draws on to illustrate this proposition are stenographic reports of workers' meetings at the Putilov factory in 1930. The second is an objection to the common reification of bureaucracy that sets it in a dichotomous relation to society and, at the saine rime, ignores the fact that any bureaucracy is an agglomeration of individual human beings. Although the objection to the state-society dichotomy has been made before (by J. Arch Getty and others), Cohen takes it in a different direction: the Soviet bureaucracy, he argues, was not (pace Max Weber) an impersonal machine but something created by the persons who served in it. Paradoxically, "almost everyone, from Stalin to any employee of a state institution, can be considered as having constructed themselves as persons in building a bureaucracy that presented itself as impersonal" (489). The source used in this case, the Stalin-Kaganovich correspondence, seems to me a dubious choice, for it surely stretches the meaning of the terre to regard Stalin and Kaganovich as "bureaucrats," despite their undoubted role in the construction of bureaucracy. Nevertheless, one can see real possibilities in the idea of investigating individual self-construction within the context of a bureaucratic role (the obkom secretary as patron, hence "benevolent father," for example).
It remains to mention several articles that have no particular relation to the topic of the Stalinist subject but are interesting in themselves. One is Nicolas Werth's "The Edicts against Theft of 4 June 1947: The Culmination of Stalinist 'Legal Repression'" (in French): a first-rate legal-political history, impeccably archive-based, which gives an account of "the most severe law on theft issued in Europe since the beginning of the 19th century" (168), under which almost half of the total of Gulag inmates in the late Stalin period were sentenced. Beate Fieseler's "Women's Awakening during Late Stalinism? The Central Committee's Women's Conference, October 1950" (in German) deals with a previously unknown postwar national conference on women's affairs at which sharp criticisms were made of the inadequate representation of women in leading positions, bad provision of child care, the double burden on women, and so on. Many delegates called (unsuccessfully) for resurrection of the old Central Committee zhenotdel, abolished in 1930. The story has two proto-feminist heroines, Abramova and Mishakova, both members ofthe Central Committee apparat. Mishakova's story is particularly poignant, as Fieseler tells us in a foomote, because a few years later her career and active life were to end abruptly when she was denounced as a Great Purges denouncer during the Thaw.
The final piece in the Studer/Haumann volume is an article byJutta Scherrer ("The Place of 'Socialism-Communism' in Recent Textbooks of History and Cultural Studies" [in German]) on the curious post-Soviet disciplines of historiosophy (istoriosofiia) and culturology (kul'turolagiia). This can scarcely be regarded as a "subjectivity" topic, except in the negative sense that the Russian historiosophists and culturologists concerned are totally uninterested in the individual and subjective, but it is fascinating, if rather alarming, in itself. Scherrer tells the story of how former teachers of Marxism-Leninism have found themselves a new profession (and had their subject ofculturology made compulsory in higher schools!) by replacing the economic zakanarnernasti of Marxism-Leninism with spiritual-cultural ones, the idea of Moscow as Third Rome taking the place of Moscow as communism's first capital.
Both of the books under review contain a substantial scholarly apparatus. Varn Wir zum Ich is particularly impressive in the depth and solidity of the historiographical information given in virtually every article; it also has three indexes (for people, places, and concepts), an extensive and excellent bibliography that covers both theoretical work on autobiography and works on Russian and Soviet autobiography and diaries in the imperial and Soviet periods), plus a list of all University of Cologne doctoral and Habilitation dissertations on Eastern Europe (a study area which in German academic life has Russia at its center) from 1955 to 2005. Stalinist Subjects has only an index of persons, but it also provides information on the individual contributors and abstracts (in English) of their contributions--in addition to the summaries of each essay that are given (in German and English) in the editors' introduction. At least four of the articles in Stalinist Subjects have been published elsewhere: Rittersporn's in Telas in 2005, Werth's as a chapter in his Le Terreur et le desarrai: Staline et san systeme ([Terror and Disarray: Stalin and His System], published in 2007, after this volume appeared), and both Juliane Ftirst's "The Importance of Being Stylish: Youth, Culture, and Identity in Late Stalinism" and Monica Ruthers's "Urbanity, Space, and Communication: Reconstruction and Use of the Ulitsa Gor'kogo 1928-1953," in the volume edited by Juliane Furst, Late Stalinist Russia. (2) The Furst volume is the better source for American readers as it gives both articles in English, whereas in Stalinist Subjects Ruthers's article is in German. It is not clear which of these edited books was the prior publication, but in any case, in something of a breach of professional etiquette, neither volume acknowledges the other.
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(1) Catherine Merridale, Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Russia (London: Granta Books, 2000); Orlando Figes, The Whisperers: Private Lire in Stalin's Russia (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007).
(2) Nicolas Werth, La Terreur et le desarrai: Staline et son systeme (Paris: Perrin, 2007); Juliane Furst, ed., Late Stalinist Russia: Society between Reconstruction and Reinvention (London: Palgrave, 2006).
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|Title Annotation:||Individual and System in the Soviet Union and the Comintern, 1929-53|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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