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  • Whither Resistance?
  • Michael David-Fox (bio)

In search of the history and concept of resistance in Russian history, we have found ourselves flying across the murky waters of a Bermuda Triangle – the three-sided relationship among states, subjects, and historians. In various moments of this discussion, we have seen how the most hegemony-minded state can obtusely fail to register resistance as well as imagine, create and invent it. We have watched how subversion can be embedded even within the process of assimilation, yet the existing order can be subtly reinforced even by those ostensibly committing acts of opposition. And we have understood how historians looking for resistance can project their deepest assumptions onto the past, adopt the categories of the states they study, and even remain "friends of the people" all the while. In short, any black-and-white dichotomy between resistance and complicity, and historical formulas predicated upon it, effectively vanishes without a trace in the depths of this triangulation. The very suggestive areas of overlap in this discussion suggest not merely that all three "sides" must be considered, but that they are interdependent and not always conceptually discrete.

If there is an interesting synergy in the articles here, there are moments of dissonance as well. Most strikingly, the authors represented here disagree radically in their conclusions. Is a privileged place for the rubric of resistance in historical considerations, or a "resistance paradigm," an advantage or a liability?

Viola repeatedly defends the utility of the concept as a revealing prism even while refusing to be trapped into defining resistance. Hellie's wide-ranging counter-factual excursion may be the most agnostic about the methodological, historiographical and epistemological problems surrounding resistance. But by considering its absence (straightforwardly understood as the revolt of the boyars, or in Viola's terms "active resistance") he reaffirms the usefulness of considering the long-term structural roots of opposition to authority and the lack thereof. Werth, in an eloquent brief for understanding the ambiguities of hybridity and the subtleties of subversion in the Russian imperial context, would strictly limit our notion of resistance to certain episodes of intrusive intervention into previously autonomous milieus. Peris, like Hellie calling attention to the importance of elite rather than subaltern resistance, analyzes the rehabilitation of the Orthodox Church in World War II against the grain of the "expected" picture: it is the local Communist Party activists, rather than the religious peasantry, who [End Page 161] "resist." Peris' multiarchival analysis, in its broadest implications, prompts us to consider the tack-and-keel pattern of Soviet "socialist construction" and all those left in the wake of its zigs and zags; but it does not question the notion of resistance per se. For Krylova, the post-1991 preoccupation with resistance to Stalinism is but the culmination of a continuous if unacknowledged postwar tradition that has, in successive combinations, projected American conceptions of "liberal man" onto the perceived attributes of homo sovieticus. Hellbeck's argument is in several ways complementary, and is neatly encapsulated in his implicit terminological distinction between resistance and dissent. Hellbeck invokes "resistance" as the preserve of those observers who find purely negative reactions to the Soviet revolutionary state by imposing on an illiberal order their own distinctions between public and private, state and society. In contrast, his historicized dissent is an often tortured process involving selves in crisis, in which dissenters could clash with but nonetheless engage a broader Soviet phenomenon of "self-activization," one that allowed millions to "speak out" about their lives as part of the collective.

In light of this range of positions, we might ask about the future of resistance as well as its past. To pose this question is, in my view, in part to ask why a single broad rubric of resistance must be promoted in disparate historical contexts, as opposed to an alternative historical agenda interested in variegated responses to power along a continuum (something Werth suggests is already being done in the best work on non-Russians in the empire). It is also to consider the baggage the concept of resistance itself carries with it as it is imported into the Russian field.

The two most important fields where resistance...


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pp. 161-165
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