How can we truly go about with categorizing populations? In the case of Stalin’s USSR and Nazi Germany, populations were categorized by class and race respectively. Chapter 6 of Beyond Totalitarianism, Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H. Siegelbaum examine the different “radical recategorizations” of the populations in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. <Christopher R. Browning and Lewis H. Siegelbaum, “Frameworks for Social Engineering: Stalinist Schema of Identification and the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft,” in Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, ed. Michael Geyer and Shelia Fitzpatrick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009)> Browning and Siegelbaum discuss both the Stalinist schema of identification and the Nazi ideal of Volksgemeinschaft and conclude that the need to reach a utopian and ideal society, justified imposing categorizations to better identify “enemies of the state.” In order to categorize populations, identification plays in big role in make categories that have to do with race and class. According to Browning and Siegelbaum,
“The Bolsheviks, without much controversy, identified the landless (batraki) and poor (bedniaki) among the peasantry as proletarians even if many of them did not identify themselves as such.”
This passage struck me the most because it demonstrates the power of the state and its capability to play the role of the “identifier.” In addition, this passage brings many things into question. How do was a proletarian defined as? Better yet, what if many did not identify as such? Similar to Nazi Germany, who was Jewish and who identifies as such? In terms of race, to what extent was someone of Aryan descent or how far can individuals trace back to the Jewish traditions of their families? One important point that I would make about this passage is the idea of human agency. Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to act in the world. When it comes to identity, it is difficult to categorize individuals in an effort to create a utopian society, because human agency will always exist. Although the state may assume the right to inscribe identity and place the population under categories, does order within these authoritarian societies have the potential to prevail?