The Mongols and Russian Progress

What struck me in tonight’s reading was the Mongols responsibility for effectively severing Russia’s historical and cultural ties to the West. We can only place so much stock in historians’ projections for what could have been, as Riasanovsky and Steinberg write, “it has been suggested that, but for the Mongols, Russia might well have participated in such epochal European developments as the Renaissance and the Reformation.” ((RS 68))  The Mongols imposed exacting financial punishments on the Russians, divesting an already poor society assets and property. As a result, the Kievan standards of living went into a sharp decline and the society saw its development stunted “by some 150 or 200 years.”  ((RS 68))

The Mongols made a limited number of constructive contributions to Russian society, but in many ways these contributions anticipate modes of population management and infrastructure that wouldn’t arise in other societies until the Modern Era: they took a census of the Russian population and created roads that helped centralize their empire. Their superior military organization “resembled a modern general staff,” ((RS 67)  and they greatly evolved the Russian Calvary forces. They also brought the Russians a crude postal system. ((RS 70))


Discussion question: How is the role of Mongol involvement in Russia treated in by historians today?

Motherhood and Reproduction in the Fascist, Soviet, and Nazi Regimes

In Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Mussolini’s Italy, all three regimes emphasized the national importance of genetics and increased birth rates as a state resource. In Hoffman and Timm’s chapter on Utopian Biopolitics, Nazi eugenics that promoted selective racial hygiene and purity is contrasted with Soviet non-selective pronatalism. ((Hoffmann, David L., and Annette F. Timm. “Utopian Biopolitics: Reproductive Policies, Gender Roles, and Sexuality in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.” In Beyond Totalitarianism – Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick, 87-129. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009. )) Wilson analyzes the woman’s role in Fascism in his article separately. ((Wilson, Perry R. “Women in Fascist Italy.” In Facist Italy and Nazi Germany – Comparisons and Contrasts, edited by Richard Bessel, 78-93. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996.))

Each regime attempted to characterize the woman’s role as a prolific mother in different ways. The common thread running between each dictatorship was the notion that women should actively participate in the creation of the future Utopian state by literally producing as many offspring as possible. As the Nazi state was repressive in many ways, ironically, it was not repressive of heterosexual sexual freedoms. Himmler himself sanctioned premarital and even extramarital sex, considering intercourse productive if between two Aryan individuals. ((Hoffmann and Timm, Utopian Biopolitics, p. 106)) In this way, sexual relationships, a highly, personal interaction, were characterized by practical, statist goals. In contrast, in both Nazi and Soviet policy, homosexuality was viewed as a waste of “genetic stock” and was therefore prosecuted as a crime against the state. In these illiberal nations that denounced capitalism, children were seen as a valuable and priceless commodity that should be produced and protected at all costs. Through incentivization and coercion, each regime found a way to influence reproductive decisions but ultimately did not increase birth rates as desired. In this way, fertility and virility took on new meanings in totalitarian states; no longer was having an individual family decision, each family was a “germ cell” with a collectivist responsibility.

As motherhood was glorified in all three countries, maternalist welfare was developed through government intervention and propaganda was produced that provided support and motivation for women to raise more children. The major standout difference was how the Soviet Union approached the role of women as mothers and labors, encouraging dual earning households. In Germany and Italy, the mother’s ideal domain was to forever remain the domestic home while the father’s world was either the workforce or battlefield. However, regardless of the portrayed ideal norm, women worked outside the home in both Germany and Italy.

It is notable that trying to raise birth rates during a period of world war seems counterproductive, when many men are away from home fighting and some may never return. Wilson concludes that “despite the enormous amount of attention paid to gender roles in Fascist rhetoric, it seems that the particular patterns of industrialization, commercialization, and urbanization had more power to shape female experiences in this period than the crude tools of Fascist ideology and policy.” ((Wilson, Women in Fascist Italy, p. 93)) I agree with Wilson and argue that not just Fascist policy failed to control gender and family roles, so too did Nazi and Soviet policy. Is it ever advisable for a state to define and encourage gender roles and family structure? In addition, is it possible for reproductive policies to be used in a democratic, non-dictatorial way to influence a country’s population?

Blut und Boden — Primordialism in Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals

Primordialism is an ancient form of nationalism that is rooted in mono-ethnic relations. As opposed to modernists who promote an imagined, mental conception of nationalism that is possible between multiple ethnic groups, primordialists assert that nationality is based on a common gene pool which creates physical attachments in a singular people. Beyond imagined community asserted by modernists, primordialists believe blood relations tie individuals together through the bonds of kinship, clanship, and tribalism founded on communal inheritance. Do you believe primordialism (mono-ethnic groups connected through blood ties) or modernism (multi-ethnic groups that feel an affinity for each other through created traditions, e.g. The Pledge of Allegiance) is a more cohesive form of nationalism?

As Schivelbusch discusses in his 4th chapter, “Back to the Land”, ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Back to the Land,” in Three New Deals – Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939) (New York: Picador, 2006), 104)) primordial nationalism played a large part in the rise of authoritarian regimes of the 20th century. After liberal politics and laissez-faire capitalist economies seemed to lead to the crash of 1929, rejection of industrial and international mechanisms that went along with them was the norm thereafter. To Schivelbusch, loss of public trust in democracies because of the Great Depression was essential for charismatic leaders like Mussolini and Hitler to establish rule through authoritarianism in the 1930s. ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 106)) Nations turned inward instead of outward during national revivals in place of imperialist expansions. The quest for Lebensraum and Fascist colonization would only seem possible after domestic rebuilding and communal reconnection.

In an attempt to imitate the past successes of simpler, pre-modern times regionalism, decentralization, reagriculturalization, and the “organic citizen and society” were all promoted as a return to primordial ties of the homeland in the ‘back-to-the-land’ movement. The Nazi ideology “Blut und Boden” (blood and soil) epitomized this ideology — eugenic authenticity of a naturally superior Volk living on collectively-worked territory. ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 112)) Handicrafts and labor tied to the land were promoted as the basis of an autarkic economy. Mechanical and artificial constructions of industrialization were deemed part of a ‘pseudo-community’ that must be reversed for a return to a more elemental, natural national life. ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 120)) After a complete return to pre-industrial ways of life was eventually rejected as industrialization was increasingly seen as an irreversible mass movement, “a Utopian vision of a new, crisis-resistant synthesis of town and country, industry and idyll” ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 126)) was promoted, espoused particularly by the concept of a non-specified laborer (farmer-factory worker) and Roosevelt’s term ‘rural-urban industry’ which he believed “would be crisis-proof and crisis-resistant”. ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 127)) Do you agree with Roosevelt’s assertion that the most stable, balanced, self-sufficient industry would effectively maintain a bureaucratically controlled equilibrium of natural and artificial products?