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  • Circulatory LocalitiesThe Example of Stalinism in the 1930s
  • Yves Cohen (bio)
    Translated by Stephanie Lin

If October 1917 marked the victory of a particular form of Marxism in circulation, developed in Western Europe and adapted for Russia by leaders in exile, the 1930s have been considered a period of inward retreat in comparison to the ferment of borrowing of the 1920s. Beginning in 1931, the foreign engineers and workers who manned the factories of the First Five-Year Plan were sent home. From the arts to the sciences, Soviet professionals in all fields who maintained connections to foreign specialists were increasingly subject to accusation and ultimately, to systematic repression.1 The Great Depression in capitalist countries and belief in the successes of the First Five-Year Plan contributed to a feeling of triumph and a certainty in the superiority of the Soviet system that in turn engendered an ideological, national Bolshevism.2

In the past 15 years, however, new research on Soviet history has shown to what extent the period of Stalin's consolidation of power remained open to borrowing. Circulation had as many implications for forms of economic [End Page 11] organization and the administrative structure of the state as for culture (grand Stalinist cinema was Hollywood-like) or urban planning (modern functionalism was rejected in favor of a hierarchical city whose model was also sought abroad). One of the objectives of this article is to demonstrate, through five examples, that borrowing continued intensively throughout this period of official retreat and occurred in some of the most important areas of the construction of this new social system (without entering into the 1940s, however, which are much more complex and less studied, and which suggest the outline of new configurations). In so doing, this article intends to make another point. Scholarly literature on "transfers" is extremely rich. In economic, industrial, and technical as well as scientific or medical questions and in issues of architecture, literature, fine arts, and cinema, studies abound on the Soviets' practice of borrowing from the capitalist countries of Europe and from the United States.3 These studies belong, for that matter, to a long, active, and sustained tradition going back well before the 18th century.4 For the last 10 or so years, however, historical scholarship has made it possible to delve deeper and to move beyond the mere identification and description of transfers. At stake is a type of history close to histoire croisée, but which places greater emphasis on what circulates. Histoire croisée is extremely useful as a means of liberation from traditional methods of comparison that "reify" differences or similarities.5 It introduces a reflexivity that allows for reciprocal questioning in every temporal and spatial dimension. Nevertheless, this approach is less sensitive to what circulates from one space to another. It is to circulation that I would now like to turn.

This reflection on circulation is equivalent neither to a comparison nor to the study of transfers, nor even to histoire croisée. This approach is inspired by pioneering research on the history of the Indian subcontinent: "Circulation is different from simple mobility, inasmuch as it implies a double movement [End Page 12] of going forth and coming back, which can be repeated indefinitely. In circulating, things, men, and notions often transform themselves. Circulation … therefore … implies an incremental aspect and not the simple reproduction across space of already formed structures and notions."6 Two major traits thus distinguish the circulatory approach from the transferential: on the one hand, emphasis is placed on the transformations that the entities in circulation undergo in the process of their displacement, and on the other, attention is drawn to the effects of the return movement on the point of departure: circulation is complete, even if the phenomena placed into circulation are no longer recognizable.

Circulation as a heuristic theme thus emerges at a moment when the approaches comprising the highly varied and dynamic landscape of global studies are proliferating remarkably. Within the field of history alone, one encounters the robust development of comparative history,7 histoire croisée, connected history,8 reciprocal history, transnational history,9 approaches that profess to be global,10 and others...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 11-45
Launched on MUSE
2010-01-30
Open Access
No
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