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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8.2 (2007) 375-388

Stratification without Class
Jean-Paul Depretto
Translated by Stephanie Lin

I read Mark Edele's text with great pleasure for the simple reason that it does not place the different generations of scholars at odds with one another, but instead insists on their continuity. Less concerned with revision at all cost, the piece in this way opens the path to a cumulative history that relies more on the truths of past research.

Since the debate on revisionism in 1986–87, we have become accustomed to considering that social history is by definition incompatible with the theory of totalitarianism and that social historians must reject the heritage of the Sovietology of the 1950s. Edele, however, convincingly demonstrates that in the Harvard Interview Project, adhesion to the notion of totalitarianism did not prevent the description of a living Soviet society, which the state by no means destroyed: let us consider, for example, what Bauer, Inkeles, and Kluckhohn write about the peasant, the "angry man" of Soviet society.1 The same proposition could be demonstrated with respect to the classic text by Merle Fainsod on Smolensk, which contains more than one chapter on social history in the most classic sense of the term—for example, on criminality, peasant protests against collectivization, or the complaints of industrial workers.2

On the whole, I agree with Edele's perspective. In the discussion that follows, I leave aside certain points for lack of expertise. I am too unfamiliar with the ideas of Talcott Parsons, for example, to appreciate his contributions to the conceptualization elaborated by Bauer, Inkeles, and Kluckhohn. I do not [End Page 375] elaborate at length on the theoretical apparatus of Stephen Kotkin except to raise a question: are the three references to Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Michel de Certeau truly reconcilable? I wonder, since in L'Invention du quotidien Certeau "has broken with the Bourdieusian model of habitus" (est en rupture avec le modèle bourdieusien de l'habitus).3 As for Foucault's thinking, it "counts a lot for him," but Certeau does diverge from it quite significantly.4 For Certeau, it is, in effect, a question of excavating the arts de faire (art of everyday practices), which manifest the creativity of actors, rather than emphasizing social determinisms or anonymous disciplinary logics. Another problem, which Edele does not address, merits discussion: Stephen Kotkin insists with just cause on the learned practice of "speaking Bolshevik" and notes that the use of the official language "involved some degree of internalization" by the subjects.5 But is it not imprudent to assert that "the state was able … to render opposition impossible"?6 Certainly other passages in the book are more nuanced: "Elements of 'belief' and 'disbelief' appear to have coexisted within everyone, along with a certain residual resentment."7 Kotkin nevertheless concludes with the "positive integration" of the working class that allowed it to find a place in "official society."8 In no way do I intend, with this critique, to call for the primacy of cases of workers' resistance; these, in my opinion, constitute exceptions and not common phenomena.9 Rather, it seems to me that the task for historians is to analyze the diverse positions in the population's attitudes toward the regime, considering examples of vigorous resistance and protest but also taking into account instances of enthusiastic support, morose loyalty, retreat into private life, and so on.10 [End Page 376]

As a social historian, I agree entirely with the critique of popular versions of the theory of totalitarianism. Yet I must also acknowledge that the positions of "revisionists" in the 1980s suffered from two weaknesses. First, certain revisionists advocated social history "with the politics left out" in the tradition of G. M. Trevelyan, a position difficult to defend in the Soviet context and in particular under Stalin, when the state played such an important role in social engineering.11 Second, revisionists' writings in general made use of the word "class," particularly in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 375-388
Launched on MUSE
2007-06-20
Open Access
No
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