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Stalin's railway to nowhere

'The Dead Road' (1947-1953)

Victor L. Mote

The uncompleted railway across Northern Siberia was one of the most shameful projects of the post-war era, involving many deaths and huge discomforts. Hailed by Stalin himself as a major part of his 'Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature', the scheme was dropped at his death in 1953. By that time, less than 600 kilometres were in working operation, even though up to 300,000 persons had been involved and about a third of them had perished, while more than 40 billion rubles of capital investment had been wasted. Ghostly labour camps, rusting rolling stock and rails, hundreds of bridges remain in what has been called 'an open air museum of human technology', preserved by nature's refrigerator - the tundra. The article describes the reasons for the railway project and the 'Great Plan', the organization involved, and the conditions in which the enslaved workforce struggled for survival and died.

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Andrew Dobson

Sartre’s second volume of the Critique of Dialectical Reason1 presents us with an important irony: of all the phenomena of the twentieth century that demand a moral judgement, Stalinism must be near the top of the list – yet such judgement is hard to find in Sartre’s Critique. Part of my task in the following will be to explain this. It is not that moral judgement is wholly absent: Sartre describes the theory and practice of ‘Socialism in One Country’ as a ‘monstrosity’ [CDR2:103] characterised by ‘its uncouth, misguided crudity’ [CDR2:111], and he has no trouble with peremptorily asserting that the Russian Revolution’s good fortune at being pushed through by the ‘Man of Steel’ was matched on the debit side by Stalin’s ‘universal incompetence’ and his ‘dogmatic crudeness’ [CDR2:205].

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Totalitarian Language

Creating Symbols to Destroy Words

Juan Francisco Fuentes

This article deals with totalitarianism and its language, conceived as both the denial and to some extent the reversal of liberalism and its conceptual framework. Overcoming liberal language meant not only setting up new political terminology, but also replacing words with symbols, ideas with sensations. This is why the standard political lexicon of totalitarianism became hardly more than a slang vocabulary for domestic consumption and, by contrast, under those regimes—mainly Italian fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism—a amboyant universe of images, sounds, and metaphors arose. Many of these images revolved around the human body as a powerful means to represent a charismatic leadership and, at the same time, an organic conception of their national communities. Totalitarian language seems to be a propitious way to explore the “dark side” of conceptual history, constituted by symbols rather than words.

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Ronald Aronson and Andrew Dobson

Sartre is left out of this commentary on Sartre. As students of Sartre, should we not ground ourselves in what Sartre actually said, in an appreciation of what he was up to, as well as in a willingness to engage the scholarship about his work? Given the richness both of Sartre’s writing and the interpretative literature, an article discussing Sartre’s notion of freedom and criticising his views on morality can fairly be taxed if it lacks these attentions. Of course Andrew Dobson is entitled to argue against Sartre, or against our various interpretations of Sartre, and to show why an anti-Sartrean ethical understanding such as his own is warranted. But what he gives us is misleading, because above all he ignores Sartre’s own evolving conception of freedom, and Sartre’s own changing purposes.

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Caroline Humphrey

In the rethinking of cosmopolitanism that has been under way in anthropology the emphasis in the European tradition of thought, pertaining to humanity in general and universal values, has been replaced by focus on specific and new cosmopolitan peoples and sites. Cosmopolitanism ceases to be only a political idea, or an ideal, and is conceptualized also in terms of practice or process. A vocabulary of 'rooted cosmopolitanism', 'vernacular cosmopolitanism' and 'actually existing cosmopolitanisms' has emerged from the characteristically anthropological acknowledgment of diversity and inevitable attachments to place. This article accepts such an approach, but argues that it has neglected the presence and intense salience of the ideas of cosmopolitanism held by nation states. Such ideologies, especially those promulgated by authoritarian states, penetrate deep into the lives and thoughts of citizens. The article draws attention to the binary and contradictory character of nation state discourse on cosmopolitanism, and to the way this creates structures of affect and desire. The Soviet concept of kosmopolitizm is analyzed. It is contextualized historically in relation to the state discourse on mobility and the practice of socialist internationalism. The article argues that although the Stalinist version of kosmopolitizm became a poisonous and anti-Semitic accusation, indeed an instrument of repression, it could not control the desire created by its own negativity. Indeed, it played a creative and integral part in the emergence of a distinctive everyday cosmopolitanism among Soviet people.

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The Far Eastern Railway in the 1930s

Relations and Reactions to the Repressions in the USSR

Elena Gnatovskaya and Alexander Kim

This article evaluates the relationship among the railroad staff of the Far East during the most dramatic events in the political life of the country at that time—repressions. As a rule, Russian academic literature indicates that few workers perceived the Soviet state’s mechanisms of pressure negatively. This article demonstrates that the railroad staff’s position was far more diverse than traditionally argued, which is a result of the broad variety of social groups working for the railroad in the Far East. The article demonstrates this diversity of opinions by focusing on those events that affected a significant number of railroad workers.

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Smith in Beijing, Stalin in Urumchi

Ethnicity, political economy, and violence in Xinjiang, 1759–2009

Chris Hann

The extraordinary growth rates of China’s “reform socialist” economy have helped to finance not only the United States’ debt but also large-scale transfers to the country’s underdeveloped regions. Yet violence in Tibet in 2008 was followed in July 2009 by major rioting in Xinjiang. This article approaches the latter events through the analysis of contemporary labor markets, socialist policies toward ethnic minorities, and the history of Xinjiang’s incorporation into the Manchu empire. Theoretical inspiration for this longue durée analysis is drawn from Adam Smith, via Giovanni Arrighi’s recent reassessment of the Smithian market model; anthropological work points to flaws in this vision.

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Natalia Jarska

This article focuses on gender relations and industrialization in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist period in Poland. Taking the example of a newly built metal factory in Kraśnik and its female workers, it shows the importance of local conditions for the process of the “productivization” of women. The article argues that in rural areas the access of women to the factory generated less conflict than in the urban milieu. The plant employed a great number of female workers in nearly every position—not as a result of any special “productivization” policy, but because women sought to work there. Women in Kraśnik did not see a conflict between their identities as women and wage work, including that in occupations traditionally dominated by men. In the course of de-Stalinization, the gender division of work became more important in shaping the employment policy of the factory. This article demonstrates how gender ideologies specific to peasant and workers' culture interacted in the process of industrialization.

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Helen Hundley, Peter Jordon, Alexander D. King, Victor L. Mote and Kathryn Pinnick

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Toward the Rising Sun. Russian Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan (Dekalb, Ill.: Northern University Press, 2001) 329pp. £31.95 (hb); $42.00 (hb) ISBN 0-87580-276-1 (hb)

Anna Reid, The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2002) 226pp. £20.00 (hb). ISBN 0-2976-4377-0 (hb)

Kira Van Deusen, Raven and the Rock: Storytelling in Chukotka (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999) 216pp. £20? (hb) ISBN 0-295-97841-4 (hb) Matthew J. Payne, Stalin’s Railroad: Turksib and the Building of Socialism Victor L. Mote

Matthew J. Payne, Stalin’s Railroad: Turksib and the Building of Socialism (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001) 384pp. £23.00, ISBN 0-8229-4166-X

Jennifer Considine and William Kerr, The Russian Oil Economy (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Press, 2002) 360pp. £69.95 (hb), ISBN 1-84064-758-2 (hb)

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The first issue of volume three of Sartre Studies International continues the journal’s primary aim of reassessing the relevance and validity of Sartrean ideals and aspirations to a contemporary world. The initial article by Andrew Dobson examines Sartre’s account of Stalin and Stalinism in the second volume of Critique de la raison dialectique, focusing in particular on the balance between historical judgement and historical explanation within a textual dynamics associated with praxis-process. Dobson’s contention that Sartre’s analysis of Stalinism lacks moral judgement is challenged in no uncertain manner by Ronald Aronson who asserts that Dobson has ‘removed Sartre’s ideas from their own complex problematic’, subjecting them without reflection and justification to his own common-sense view of moral behaviour.