Josh’s post got me thinking about my disinclination to more directly acknowledge the connection between the Cold War and Soviet masculinity – esp. given that it’s (implicitly) present in the book. The Cold War is relevant to this book because it influenced the logic of the period and gave the impetus for the various modernization reforms the USSR pursued. The nuclear race, the Virgin Lands campaign, the space race, and the revival of light industry were all clearly linked to the superpower contest. But even as the Cold War impacted this period, I think it had less of an immediate and intimate influence on the thinking of everyday Soviet citizens—at least based on this set of sources. The anxieties and insecurities Soviet protagonists experienced is, I think, more of a product of a postwar moment that was evident across the continent regardless of a country’s superpower status. France, Italy, and Britain all struggled to come to terms with their sudden postwar affluence, their authoritarian/imperial past, and rapidly changing demographics. The call to not only to rebuild but also to reimagine national life after twin evils of totalitarianism and WWII defined the long Sixties. The film characters and their audiences did not speak in the language of the Cold War; rather, they talked about issues “closer to home” that were results of marriage laws, consumerist policies, de-Stalinization, and (sub)urban renewal. For instance, the stories of celluloid Cold War nuclear scientists were ultimately about maintaining their integrity and dignity in a system run by their country’s bureaucrats. On the other side of the spectrum were scientists who created their versions of robotic Frankensteins and learned that they shortcut their humanity at their own peril. The lesson these scientist learned were about romance and the dangers of red tape and in this way scientists, as men, were no different than men who tried to figure out how to become adequate father figures or men who tried to avoid the discreet charms of the bourgeoisie. The title of the book centers the masculinity crisis of the Sixties, even as the Cold War certainly shaped the terrain of this period.
Robert’s provocative post helped me recall his excellent book Cold War Femme: Lesbianism, National Identity, and Hollywood Cinema. In it, Robert demonstrates how the Cold War transformed the understanding of lesbianism in the US. Whereas in the first half of the twentieth century, lesbianism was seen as a gender inversion (masculine/butch woman), the Cold War context reconfigured the lesbian into a “femme” and lesbianism became more about object choice. The lesbian had gone “incognito” and was tougher to identify. My working hypothesis was that this Cold War transformation did not take place in the USSR precisely because of the postwar masculinity crisis. To compensate for the masculine lack, women had to firmly occupy traditional and stereotypical female spaces – and then some.
In the hopes of generating some more discussion, I thought I’d interject briefly as the facilitator of this conversation to follow up on a thread raised by Marko and our panelists in the hopes that they (and any of our readers) may want to respond.
Now that I’ve officially embarked on a study of the overall weirdness of temporality in the post -Soviet era , thinking about Men Out of Focus makes me feel strangely unstuck in time. After all, this is the book I really wish I could have cited when I was writing my dissertation thirty years ago. Perhaps the next frontier in digital humanities could involve rocketing manuscripts into the past. Is that really too much to ask?
I’d like to start by saying that Erica’s Military Masculinity and Postwar Recovery in the Soviet Union is a masterful monograph that I read and re-read as I finalized Men Out of Focus because it was revelatory for me. It dazzlingly unpacks the intentional project of restoring the spirit of martial masculinity following WWII. Although war does not loom large in my analysis, I imagine Military Masculinity and Men Out of Focus being complementary in that both identify the ways in which significant postwar shifts disrupted the Soviet interwar and wartime gender order. For instance, Erica’s keen observation that reconnecting masculinity and military service was, in part, a (by)product of the fact that the USSR had demographically become “a country of women” and that “the growing plurality in postwar society increasingly offered young men the option of locating their identities in nonmartial categories.” It seems to me that both our works identify if not a crisis, then certainly an anxiety about a kind of misalignment of men’s “proper” postwar role(s). I wholeheartedly agree with Erica’s claim that ever since the Civil War the image of the Red Army serviceman remained central and loomed large in Soviet culture. At the same time, the Cold War competition was as much about beating the US in the production of meat and milk as it was about military supremacy. Perhaps Erica’s focus on the legacy of WWII and my focus on non-military gendered sites meets in the Virgin Lands campaign, which is framed as the postwar generation’s crucible but is more about “bread and butter” issues than about defense and battle-readiness.
As we discuss the topic of martial masculinity, I was reminded during my conversation with Sean Guillory that the Cold War (much like WWII) does not define the story I tell. I certainly looked for the connection between masculinity and the superpower conflict, but it remained elusive for me. Erica’s research (especially Part II of Military Masculinity) persuasively shows the tangible connections between the Cold War rivalry and constructions of masculinity. My sources, however, are strangely mum on the Cold War. There’s certainly plenty of references about “foreign and alien” ideologies and anti-capitalist sentiments, but the Cold War as a measure of Soviet men’s worth as men did not materialize in my research. I hypothesized that this silence was, in part, because of the regime’s investment in peaceful coexistence and détente as foreign policy principles (which are expertly traced in chapter three of Erica’s book).
Finally, Erica’s “crisis for whom” question is brilliantly on point. It seems to me that it is a crisis for the gender project Lenin articulated when he demanded the “old Oblomov” has remained and when he insisted that “for a long while yet he will have to be washed, cleaned, shaken and thrashed if something is to come of him.” Similarly, it is a crisis for the gender project Stalin continued by rejecting the idea of Hamlet as an overly cerebral and indecisive anti-hero. It is perhaps this same crisis point that focused the Soviet’s military attention on “making men out of boys” in the postwar period?
The question of how to determine the political significance of alternative models of masculinity, especially when they are anchored in normatively raced, classed, and sexed bodies, has long been central to queer studies, the field in which I work. Marko Dumancic’s richly textured analysis of the crisis of masculinity that emerged in the Soviet Union during the Khrushchev era suggests why this question is not always easy to answer. In riveting and meticulous detail, Marko traces how Thaw-era filmmakers’ rejection of the heroic masculinity celebrated in the social realist cinema of an earlier era threatened to undermine the Communist Party’s authority.
After the year we have all had, kicking off the summer by reading and thinking about Soviet masculinities feels, to me, like a comforting return to normalcy. It is a topic I began researching and writing about as a graduate student over two decades ago now (good grief!) I was fascinated in the late 1990s by research on machismo coming out of Latin American history and on men of the Victorian public sphere in British history. By 2002, Imperial Russian and Soviet history had its own pioneering volume of essays on masculinities (Russian Masculinities in History and Culture, ed. Clements, Friedman, and Healey), and the field has only expanded from there.
It has been a while since our last book conversation here on the Russian History Blog, so the pressure was on to emerge from our pandemic cocoons with style. We can think of no better volume to do this with than Marko Dumančić’s wonderful Men Out of Focus: The Soviet Masculinity Crisis in the Long Sixties (University of Toronto Press, 2021). As someone with a deep interest both in gender history and in late Soviet culture, I was particularly eager to get my hands on this book and to talk with others about it. I’m looking forward to a vibrant conversation over the next few days. Please read on to find out more about the book and about our panelists!
Paul poses excellent questions regarding loyalty. He accurately characterizes my arguments that I sought to describe a “grand arc” of movement from more passive forms of loyalty to more active ones, and that more of the emperor’s subjects were supposed to understand the state’s goals and actively support them.
I had not focused particularly on question of material versus ideal motivations for loyalty. This was in part because the sources I had rarely made possible such an inquiry. Personal, first-hand accounts of someone’s motivation were not very common. The material dimensions of motivation were sometimes quite apparent, as in cases where servitors received grants of land or salaries. But material considerations could be opaque, too, in cases where someone might be able to use his position to extract bribes that did not see the light of day. I would hesitate to tie passive loyalty only to material interests, and active loyalty to what Paul calls “intellectual or even spiritual spheres.” Material interests can certainly motivate active loyalty.
That said, I would agree that material motivations were most salient in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Before the 1730s, local elites could likely use their roles as intermediaries between the tsar and his or her subjects to profit materially by skimming taxes collected, for instance. But before the 1730s, the region was too unstable to make landholding secure and lucrative. After the Bashkir wars of the 1730s, joining forces with the tsar’s men brought one the opportunity to obtain land and plunder. Whether or not someone such as Kutlu-Mukhammad/Aleksei Ivanovich Tevkelev actually identified with Peter II was not apparent from the writings I had. Considering Tevkelev and his family owned more land than anyone else in the region by the mid eighteenth century, however, Tevkelev certainly gained materially from his long and loyal service. Other Muslim and Russian Orthodox servitors did as well.
Typically, when one describes the development of one’s research project, one draws a straight, more or less direct line from a project’s conception to its conclusion. One consciously or unconsciously omits at least some false starts, dead ends, or changes of focus in order to present the course from beginning to end as clear and intentional. I cannot present such a history to Ilya Gerasimov or Paul Werth. I encountered them early in the research of the project. They have seen the false starts and dead ends.
Ilya captures my journeys through space and time well. I would add only that my decision to work in Ufa and Bashkiria was motivated initially less by the desire to find a “backwater” than by practical considerations. I realized fairly quickly that an attempt to compare Kazan and Ufa—my initial intention—would be difficult logistically. To research an ensemble of local institutions across a substantial span of time in two cities and two sets of archives was more than I could do. I had to choose.
Initially, I decided to work in Bashkiria because fewer western scholars had worked there on the late imperial period. The high quality of Kazan’s archives—they suffered little damage during the civil war–meant that people such as Bob Geraci and Paul Werth were already working through its late imperial materials. Since the very point of my study was to assert the importance of spatial distinctions in the empire, it made little sense to add another project on Kazan. Kazan University and the city’s Russian and Tatar educated society make it crucial for analyses of the Russian Empire. Making one provincial city the paradigm for all the Russian Empire in the east, however, did not do service to the empire’s great diversity in people and institutions. A move to the east to work on an area whose experience might contrast that of Kazan seemed important.
Some people crank out books rapidly, one quickly after the last. Others take longer to accomplish the task. Based as it is on a dissertation defended at Columbia University back in 1999, Charles Steinwedel’s Threads of Empire has been a long time in coming. My guess is that this was a source of frustration for the author himself, but for our field there is real and tangible profit. This book clearly benefitted handsomely from the long time that it took to complete. The bibliography is extensive, and the author has taken careful stock of major developments in the historiography over the last two decades or so. A glance at the endnotes reveals that ideal balance of archival, published primary, and secondary sources, woven together seamlessly and all placed in intimate conversation with one another. That very configuration is evidence of a tremendous process of synthesis and integration—one that really could unfold only over the long haul. This depth—a function of the long time the author spent carefully contemplating the key issues at stake—is the first of four major attributes that I ascribe to this book.
A second—and related—attribute is the book’s chronological scope. While the authors of The History Manifesto (whether rightly or wrongly—probably the latter) fret about the narrowing chronological scope of much contemporary historical research, here we have a work that is bold in its willingness to take on the challenge of covering some 350 years of history. That my colleague and specialist on the early-modern era, Matthew Romaniello, finds the book compelling and indeed “excellent” on the more than two centuries before the 19th century says a great deal about the skill with which Steinwedel, whose work has focused mostly on late imperial Russia, successfully ventured into those earlier eras. This after all requires great sensitivity to the peculiarities of earlier ages, something that requires deep immersion. My colleague Ilya Gerasimov notes the “inner research logic” behind this broad chronological scope, and I agree. Indeed, though my mind is admittedly crippled by the intellectually stultifying task of chairing a modern academic department, I strain to identify more than a handful of books, aside from works of broad synthesis, that tackle such an extended period of time: Yuri Slezkine’s Arctic Mirrors (which nonetheless focuses principally on the Soviet era); John LeDonne’s works on Russia’s “grand strategy” over 2-3 centuries; and Michael Khodarkovsky’s Making of a Colonial Empire (which however does not extend into the modern period). The fact is that we simply do not have very many books that probe deeply into a particular problem while also tackling the long haul. This is obviously in part because those two tasks are so fundamentally at odds with one another. To reconcile them is no mean feat. Steinwedel has managed this, and indeed the twin problems of loyalty and authority (encompassed in the metaphor of “threads”) are sharply revealed in the process, as is their evolution over time.
The more time I’ve spent thinking about the Chuck Steinwedel’s excellent Threads of Empire, the more I’m taken by the idea of imperial threads. The intertwined purpose of policy is difficult for anyone to unwind. I think this is an important contribution just for the reminder about the multivalent nature of imperial governing strategies.
In the excellent chapter on the middle of the eighteenth century (“Absolutism and Empire”), Steinwedel begins with the Ivan Kirilov and Kutlu-Mukhammad Tevkelev’s expedition that led to the establishment of the new fort of Orenburg. The expedition departed Ufa in April 1735, and immediately ran into difficulties in the form of an uprising, which eventually would be known as the Bashkir War of 1735-40. This is the point when I start to think about threads of empire. Steinwedel thoughtfully analyzes the outcome of the revolt upon the local populations, and thinks about the ways in which local identities were shaped by these experiences and the changing relationship to state authorities. Towards the end of the 1750s, Tevkelev produces an examination of state policies toward the Kazakhs, which considers whether the nomads could be encouraged to settle or would continue to follow their traditional lifestyle. Summarizing the report, Steinwedel assesses its evaluation: the “Kazakhs had already fallen in love with trade” (p. 65).
In the early 1960s the famous Russian writer and literary critic Korney Chukovsky, renowned for his acidic and even cruel comments, coined the aphorism: “In Russia, one needs to live long: it’s interesting!” Born in 1882, Chukovsky was a lucky survivor of the devastating first half of the twentieth century: according to the 1959 census, in the city of Moscow there lived just over 2,000 men of his age (one per 1,000 male Muscovites). At the same time (1960), in New York City, his cohort was exactly three times more representative. Thus, if they only had that chance, Chukovsky’s less lucky compatriots probably would have opted for longer lives just for the sake of it, even without the promise of anything “interesting” to observe and experience. I like to think that Chukovsky, a very sharp-minded man, meant something other than the personal triumph of surviving Stalin—namely, that with time, one understands more and perceives reality differently. Of course, this also seems to be a rather simple observation, and hardly limited to Russia. It is probably just experienced more dramatically in Russia as a “country with an unpredictable past”: new developments can shed new light on the past to the extent of completely reshaping its image. And the radically reassessed past transforms our perception of the present and future. In living longer, you not only learn more; you see things differently.
I’m very pleased that over the next several weeks the Russian History Blog will be hosting another book conversation, this time of Charles Steinwedel’s Threads of Empire: Loyalty and Tsarist Authority in Bashkiria, 1552-1917 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016). The book uses a focus on one region over several centuries of tsarist rule to produce a local history of the vast empire. One of the things that makes the book so rich is the way it looks at the many ways that Bashkirs were conceptualized and categorized by the imperial state: by nation, by religion, by estate.
Of course, that richness in approach also makes it a perfect subject for a conversation between historians of different aspects of imperial Russia. And so I’m happy to present this list of participants in the discussion.
I am among those who eagerly awaited the publication of Erika Monahan’s book, The Merchants of Siberia. For a number of years I’ve been developing a study of what one might call (if one were inclined to use flamboyant catch phrases to draw popular attention to scholarly subjects) The Early Modern Silk Road. This is essentially a study of Central Eurasia’s position at the heart of overland networks of exchange during a period when most have assumed that they had diminished to the point of insignificance, and few have thought to look and see if that assumption was correct. The Merchants of Siberia advances a related argument and marshals a substantial amount of original evidence to support it. Erika Monahan was kind enough to provide me with working drafts of select chapters as her project was coming to a close. But it was only when I had the published book in my hand that I was able to appreciate the magnitude of her achievement.
There’s a moment in The Merchants of Siberia that I suspect will call forth a sigh of weary recognition from nearly any historian—or perhaps only from any historian working on the early modern world, or perhaps even only from any historian working on early modern Russia. Erika describes a “scandal” at Lake Yamysh when a trade dispute turned into an occasion for slander, insult, and “mutinous shouts.” The situation was serious enough that “Moscow, predictably, ordered an investigation.” More than a hundred witnesses were questioned, and the result was a 144-page long report “that, unfortunately, contains no resolution” (198). I have so much sympathy, and remembered frustration, for that one word, “unfortunately.” Archival files so often seem to promise the key to an argument but then simply end before they get there. Or they turn out to be illuminating in some way, as in the case reported here, but still leave the reader frustrated for lack of a proper conclusion to their story.
Dry your tears, Ryan! Fur is important and absolutely belongs in any history we tell of Siberia. It’s just not the whole story. To me, this is epitomized visually in the 4-panel illustration of the Russian embassy to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1576. We all know the image: the Russian entourage with men bearing finely assembled forties of sables and other furs. It appears on the cover of one book, in texts, etc.
If you’ll make allowances for my admittedly myopic perspective, I’d say that to the extent that there are iconic images for early Russian history, this is among them. But, the whole image actually consists of 4 panels.
Merchants of Siberia complicates and enlivens our evolving picture of commerce and trade in early modern Russia. Noting the links between Russia’s growing involvement with European trading partners and trading activities on Muscovy’s southern and eastern frontiers, Erika Monahan calls for a closer focus on the role of the Russian state and Eurasian merchants as facilitators of east-west and north-south trade. As part of this move, she emphasizes that, from the point of view of both merchants and agents of the Muscovite state, Siberia was far more than just a store of natural resources, highlighting in particular its place as “a node in important trans-Eurasian routes.” This is a productive avenue of exploration. Erika’s work examines western Siberia’s under-appreciated early modern connections with Central Asia. Muscovy was indeed connected to diverse states along its multiple frontiers. Reading about these interactions, but coming at these same issues from the point of view of a historian of the nineteenth century, made me wonder, what standard do we have for calling a particular trade vibrant and a particular route or set of routes important?
Importance seems to be a relative concept. Continental trade to and through Siberia was important – undoubtedly so, I would argue, to the communities that resided there. As for transit trade, it was surely important as well, but the difficulty – not to mention the sheer length – of the routes made long-distance transport daunting and time-consuming under the best circumstances, and of course expensive. The routes between Siberia and east and central Asia all came with a set of challenges and risks. Climatic conditions compelled trade in Siberia to follow a seasonal rhythm – making passage of goods impossible for months at a time. The fact that these trade routes nonetheless persisted seems to point to both the dearth of alternatives and the reality that there were parties who had a vested interest in these routes, whatever the economic calculations.
Welcome to our new blog conversation on Erika Monahan’s remarkable The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Eurasia (Cornell University Press, 2016). Erika’s book is a comprehensive study of the structure and logistics of trade in Siberia, which is a ground-breaking accomplishment based on considerable archival research. I expect that her analysis of Russia as an “activist commercial state” will become the standard framework for explaining the Russian economy in the future studies. One of the features that is most exciting about the book is that Erika effectively moves between a local history of Siberia and a global view of the Eurasian economy, offering new ideas and interpretations for scholars of Russia and world history.
I intended to post a second response in the conversation a while ago, but thoughts about cheese and then a trip intervened. I’ve been thinking about the commentary here a lot, though, and in particular about another aspect of the shift from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. I got distracted by thinking about the process of writing and revising last time, so this is in some ways a more serious response to the questions about the eighteenth century and the ways it is distinct from the nineteenth century.
First, I think Lindsay is right, that the Catherinian charters are meant in part to give incentives to take up a formal status that more or less accurately reflected socio-economic activity rather than live in a murky in-between. Now that I think about it, the fact that the charters to the nobility and to the towns (and the one for the state peasants that was never enacted) are so very similar in format plays into this more than I perhaps originally thought. Comparing the two charters really brings out their essential similarity—the nobility is comprised of six different parts (“true nobility,” military nobility, eighth-rank nobility, foreign nobles, those with distinguished titles, those of “ancient high-born noble lines”) and the townspeople are also divided into six parts (those who owned real estate in the town; merchants, artisans, foreign or out-of-town guests, notable citizens, meshchane). They both get record books (rodoslovnye knigi or obyvatelskie knigi) with similar lists of documents that can be presented in order to get listed in those books. The charter to the state peasants would have been very similar. In a way, it’s like a version of universal rule of law—everyone (except, of course, serfs) governed by essentially the same kinds of laws of status, even if the specifics of what applied to any one person might be different.