British Eugenics: Race Versus Class

This eugenicist poster presents the differences between different African faces, highlighting the features of the so-considered “criminal” and “civil insane.”  I found it to be a good demonstration of the belief within eugenics that someone’s facial features could be used to determine their personality type.  Eugenicists believed that one’s personality could be determined by their appearance.  Having a “shorter, broader, higher head” for example could classify one as a criminal according to this poster.  Biology and anthropology were used as both logical proof and a moral conscience for these claims.  It was thought processes like this that allowed for racism to flourish from eugenics in interwar Europe.

Another interesting aspect of this poster is the fact that it comes from Britain, where eugenics were supposedly based more in social class than in race.  It helps to prove Stone’s argument in Breeding Superman that racial eugenics were more prominent in Britain than the nation’s eugenicists preferred to lead on.  After the atrocities committed by Germany that used eugenics as their logic were exposed, Britain claimed that their eugenics programs were based around preserving the traditional class system that had been becoming obsolete.  However, as an empire that spanned almost all the continents of the world, as well as the peoples of different races that resided on them, Britain felt it necessary to assert its dominance over the natives of their colonies.  Therefore, eugenics was used to “prove” white supremacy.  This poster shows how the British did this by using the reasoning that Africans were naturally savages who would disrupt the social order with their “natural” tendencies toward violence.  Documents such as this could have easily manipulated the mindsets of the middle class through its fear tactics.

After having become aware of how British eugenics were based around similar ideals as those in the more extreme Nazi Germany, it fascinates me how one country used these ideas to justify a mass genocide, while the other fought against these actions.  Could Britain have eventually reached a tipping point that would have caused the nation to undertake similar actions as Germany?

The Russian Working Class

Both “We Grow out of Iron” by Gastev and “Chapaev” by Furmanov dealt with the feelings of the working class during the Soviet takeover of Russia.

“We Grow out of Iron” is a propaganda poem glorifying hard work, an idea that was spread throughout the Soviet Union.  While this poem could be dismissed as a piece of propaganda, it is more than that.  Gastev was from the poor, working class.  Without the breaking down of the class system, he would most likely have never been able to write his poetry.  It makes sense that Gastev would love and support the Soviet Union because communism gave him a chance to be more than just a worker.  Unfortunately, during Stalin’s perversion of communist ideology, Gastev was killed.  But under idealistic communism, Gastev flourished.

In “Chapaev,” the main character, Fyodor, is a member of the working class, just like the author, Furmanov.  As an urban worker, Fyodor is skeptical of Chapaev because he is a peasant.  While Fyodor admires Chapaev, he is unsure of the peasants’ commitment to the Soviet cause.  He believes peasants are more likely to switch sides spontaneously than the urban workers.  Furmanov highlights the distinctions between the rural peasants and urban workers even more when it is revealed that the middle-aged Chapaev only recently learned to read.  The story deals with many stereotypes held by the urban workers about the peasants, such as peasants are backwards and uncontrollable.

Both Gastev and Furmanov write about the experience of urban workers at the beginning of the Soviet Union.  Both these authors show urban workers at the heart of the political upheaval in Russia as one ideology replaced another.

Religion in Battleship Potemkin

Traditionally, when people are in unsatisfactory situations, or are unhappy with their lives, they turn to religion. The Communist Party flips the notion of religion as a solace on its head, and preaches that religion is what keeps the lower classes appeased and prevents them from taking down those that oppress them. In Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein, this Communist ideal and its merits are displayed.

The film takes place during the 1905 Revolution, in which the lower classes rallied together to fight the Czar. The most interesting thing, to me, was the portrayal/the importance of religion in the film. Before the mutiny on the ship takes place, a sailor breaks a plate that has “give us this day our daily bread” in-scripted on it. During the mutiny, a priest stands in the way of the sailors, siding with the captain and the officers. In this way, religion is shown as a proponent of the Czar and his authority. Distain for religion is  a large part of Communism, which, at the time that the film was made, was the political ideology of the Russian government. The film was ostentatiously about the 1905 Revolution, but it was really a way to enforce the views of the Communist party, and reiterate the reasons why Russia turned to Communism in the first place.

Because they both morphed into authoritarian states, German Fascism and Russian Communism are often look at as similar forms of government; they are not. The film shows this when a Russian aristocrat says “Kill the Jews”, and all of the lower class people attack him for this comment. In Russia, everyone was supposed to be equal, and religion and ethnicity were things to be forgotten with the rise of Communism. In Russia, it was the rich and privileged who were hated, regardless of ethnicity and/or religion. In Germany, it was quit the opposite; the Germans wanted to racially cleanse their country. As Mazower explains in Dark Continent, “the law no longer protected the rights of jews and gypsies, as well as “degenerate” classes of Aryans” in Nazi Germany (Mazower 33).

This film illustrates why Communism was appealing to the Russian people. The brutal actions of the Czar’s regime are connected to religion, and both the regime and the church must lose their power for the people to gain theirs. Battleship Potemkin reminds the Russian people of the camaraderie they share under the rule of the Communist government.