August 1991 as Seen by a Moscow Historian, or the Fate of Medieval Studies in the Soviet Era

by Yuri L. Bessmertny
August 1991 as Seen by a Moscow Historian, or the Fate of Medieval Studies in the Soviet Era
Yuri L. Bessmertny
The American Historical Review
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August 1991 as Seen by a Moscow Historian, or the Fate of

Medieval Studies in the Soviet Era


THEEVENTS OF AUGUST19-22, 1991, IN RUSSIA,have been widely covered and analyzed in various mass media and by various authors. The outline of the events and their preconditions are known today not only to historians but to the broad public as well. I would like to offer a more specific characterization of these events. I want to view them in the light of the long-term processes embracing many decades of Soviet history and, at the same time, in the light of individual human lives, the lives of ordinary people, who are the first to be affected by any social or political change. It is not an easy task to combine these two aspects; to integrate them, I have chosen a peculiar genre, an analysis of my own life combined with an analysis of political events.

I was born and reared in Russia, and I hope to live in my country for the rest of my life, no matter how difficult or even tragic Russia's future might be. Before 1989, I had not visited Western countries, even though I had long been engaged in studying the history of the West European Middle Ages. The story of my reaction to the events of August 1991, the reaction of my friends and colleagues, our understanding of the impact of the coup on us and on the fate of the branch of history in which I have worked for over forty years, the Russian school of the West European Middle Ages, may shed some light on the coup itself and on its importance for today's history. In other words, I would like to approach the Moscow of August 1991 subjectively and also try to understand these events through a retrospective of the history of Soviet medieval studies.

I came to the study of history very late, after age thirty-five. The reason was not only that I, like all my countrymen of the same age, spent my years from age eighteen to twenty-two at the front of World War 11. There was something more. After the war, at twenty-five, I graduated from Moscow University and was eager to continue my studies in the history of the European Middle Ages. The year was 1949, vacancies had opened up nearly everywhere, and I had fairly good recommendations. The obstacles I stumbled upon came from quite a different quarter. My professors told me that I should not even try to gain admission to postgraduate studies at my alma mater, since candidates there had already been appointed by the university party organization. But my attempts to enter another Moscow institution also ended in defeat: I was not admitted because the local authorities had beforehand decided to give preference to a young woman of whose loyalty and Marxist orthodoxy they were sure, whatever her scholarly or intellectual achievements might have been.

What was so special about me that I did not suit the authorities? No one told me anything definite officially. But my own experience, as well as the experience of my friends and acquaintances, allowed me to guess. I am Jewish. At the beginning of the postwar period, and even before that, Jews were more and more often subject to discrimination. In the first postrevolutionary years until as late as the mid-1930s, the Soviet authorities did not consider a Jewish origin a "presumption of guilt," or in fact, worth special attention at all. (The same attitude applied at that time to all other nationalities-or nearly so.) But the situation changed in the course of the repressions of 1937 and the following years. The new attitude reached a peak when the campaign of struggle against so-called cosmopolitanism was unleashed in 1949, just at the time of my graduation. Unlike the previous secret "campaigns," this one was waged openly in all the mass media of the country and was particularly sophisticated. The ideological subterfuge for the campaign was the statement that in the midst of the Soviet intelligentsia there had arisen a tendency "to kowtow to everything foreign," which could not be justified: extolling things foreign, people were apt to forget the achievements and merits of the Soviet people, and the tendency was therefore anti-patriotic and hostile by its very nature. The majority of those labeled "cosmopolites," 90 or 95 percent, consisted of people of Jewish origin, as could be discerned from their broadly publicized names. But nothing was said aloud, just as in my own situation. Among the Soviet Jews who, like me, were absolutely devoid of national consciousness and who were incapable of understanding the hidden meaning behind these events, hopes and even an optimistic belief that everything would be all right remained alive. Where this nai'vete sprang from deserves a special analysis, as it was a feeling shared by many.'

LET US RECALL first that the "administration of the Soviet Union," which attempted to seize power on August 19 of last year, had as one of its principal slogans a return to the questionable notion of patriotism, "Soviet patriotism." The "Appeal to the Soviet People" published by the GKChP (State Committee for the State of Emergency)-the new organ of state power, formed during those days in August-called for "Soviet patriotism" without delay. Gennadii Ianaev, the man who usurped the post of Mikhail Gorbachev, called in his press conference for a restoration of the lost patriotic sentiment of the people. Some military leaders spoke even more openly. According to our post-coup press, General Albert Makashov in the coded communications dispatched to his troops invoked the notorious "cosmopolites" again, listing among them malicious propagandists who must be arrested on sight as the worst enemies of the GKChP.2

This na'ivete and conformity were typical, certainly, but not for all. (Compare Vitalii A. Rubin, Dnevniki, pis'ma Uerusalem, 19881.) But among those around me, and especially those of my age, this feature was predominant.

At the time of the putsch, General Makashov was commander of a military district in the Urals. According to the daily Izuestiyu, no. 209 (September 3, 1991), Makashov, in a cipher message of

This sentiment can be seen even more clearly in the "Appeal to the People" published a month before the coup by chauvinist and anti-Semitic organizations in Moscow. It is well known now that the "Appeal" was also signed by the future perpetrators of the coup, among them the then-commander-in-chief of the Soviet ground forces, General Vladimir Varennikov, the first deputy minister of the interior, Boris Gromov, the secretary of the Party of Russian Communists,

G. Ziuganov, and others.3 Moreover, there is reliable information that, on one of the first days after the coup, an editorial (prepared beforehand) was to be published in all newspapers with the title: "The Plot of Zionists and Masons Foiled by the Introduction of the State of Emergency." Of course, I had no way of knowing these things on the first day of the coup, but the general tendency was clear from the start. Therefore, for myself, my family, my friends, whether Jewish or not, for all the decent people of whatever nationality, the days of the coup were a time to say goodbye to normal life.

It was not just anti-Semitism that heightened our concern about August 1991. Here I must return to my attempt to gain entrance to postgraduate education forty years ago. For the university examination board, I was persona non grata not only because of my Jewish origin. My past was marked by another cause for suspicion. In the spring of 1938, my father, an insignificant white-collar worker in a Moscow office, was arrested on a charge of spreading anti-Soviet propaganda. After several days, he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment without the right to receive letters, and, as I came to know later, he died in less than six months at the notorious Kolyma gold fields called Lower Oturiakh, not far from the coast of the Arctic Ocean. My father's arrest had made a deep impression on me, then a boy of fourteen. It was not only the scene of the nighttime search and arrest, of hurried goodbyes to my father as he was led away. It may seem strange, but most traumatic was the fact that my father had worshiped, all but idolized, the Soviet system. He often reminded me, "But for the revolution, I would have stayed within the Jewish Pale of Settlement with no prospects at all." He reveled in every success of the country, be it the voyage of the icebreaker Cheliuskirz along the Arctic coast of the Soviet Union, the records of our aviators, or the construction of new factories. And he did so irrespective of our own difficult life, full of hardships: my father's salary was hardly enough to make ends meet. Nor did the threat of purges hanging over my father's head dissuade him. After one such purge of Soviet white-collar workers in 1930, my father was sacked as a person of "non-proletarian origin." As a result, he could not find a job in Moscow, and for a year he had to live far from the family, several thousand kilometers away. What allowed him to remain enthusiastic about the Soviet system? Political nai'vete? Ignorance? Unthinking acceptance of the then-popular idea of building a socialist paradise on earth? I do not know the answer to this question, and not only in my father's case but in that of many other people of his age as well.

August 20, 1991, ordered all the commanders of the regiments in his district "to strengthen patriotic work in military units. . . to arrest emissaries, cosmopolites, traitors of our Motherland and the Soviet Union, interrogate them and give then] to Security once their identities are established."

:' "The Appeal to the People" was published by a number of right-wing newspapers and magazines; see Aloskovskaia Pravda, July 23, 1991.

Yuri L. Bessmertny

In 1938, other questions dominated my thoughts. I could not comprehend what was happening, why there was no justice, and why my father had to be sacrificed to the process of creating "a better life for all the people of the country." I am ashamed to confess that to me the most convincing explanation of what had happened to my father seemed to be a proverb horrible in its wickedness: "You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs." I saw my poor father as one of these eggs doomed by the process of making the omelet. But that was only one of my thoughts. Another question inevitably arose: if my father, an entirely guiltless person, had not been able to prove his innocence, who could be sure of a safe tomorrow? Neither my mother, nor I, nor my friends. Disaster might befall us any day, at any moment. Soviet power was almighty, while we were absolutely helpless.

Since then, fear has governed me for a very long time, fear of the powers that be. It has brought with it timidity, deprived me of the inner freedom that should belong to man, and increased my diffidence. There were sufficient grounds for my feelings. Even before World War 11, at one of the colleges I tried to enter, I was told that it was no place for the children of "enemies of the state." When I came back from the war front hopeful that I had atoned for my "sin," my experience in trying to gain admission to postgraduate studies dashed that hope. Later on, in Khrushchev's times, my father was posthumously "rehabilitated." But neither in those "new" times, nor later, up to 1989, was I permitted to take part in scholarly conferences abroad or even to travel outside the country, being a nevyezdnoi-bureaucratic slang for a person forbidden to go abroad. This label may have been earned by my own acts (of which I shall speak later). Yet the memory of the events of 1938 never left my mind as, in all probability, it had not left my file in the KGB.

INVIEW OF THESE EXPERIENCES, you can imagine what kind of memories the coup aroused in my friends and me. The perpetrators made no secret of the type of "law and order" they were going to restore. On the morning of August 19, when I arrived at my institute, one of my younger colleagues, a very friendly person, asked me half-seriously, half-jokingly, "What? You are still at large? Not arrested yet?" Nobody doubted that massive arrests were to start any day, any moment. My friends and I believed that we were on the threshold of a return to 1937.

Later information confirmed our worst fears. After the failure of the coup, the victors found 300,000 arrest warrants for Moscow alone, filled out and signed, ready to be used. Factories in several towns had received orders to produce hundreds of thousands of handcuffs. Just before the coup, repairs had been started in some prisons and concentration camps. On August 19 and 20, we did not yet know these things, but our premonitions of disaster were not misplaced.

And why should my friends and I be arrested? What could have incriminated us in 1991? From a formal point of view, absolutely nothing. I had never belonged to a dissident group that acted openly before perestroika, had never publicly expressed anti-Soviet views; I did not even join any of the new parties that sprang up like mushrooms after 1988. My political inactivity may be attributed to reasons of character, one of which is no doubt the fear, whether conscious or unconscious, that has haunted me since my childhood. The more interesting question is why I and others like myself who were well-behaved citizens during the Gorbachev era looked on the coup as a threat to our lives.

I will try to answer this question by viewing it once again through my own experience. At the beginning of my scholarly career, like many historians in the 1950s, I was fond of agrarian history. Encouraged by my university tutors, A. Neusykhin and S. Skazkin (who had belonged to the prerevolutionary Russian school of agrarian history), I wrote and published several works on German agrarian history from the ninth to thirteenth centuries. These works, as I see them now, were fairly professional, though wholly in a Marxist vein. The "Khrushchev thaw" created conditions that allowed me to receive an appointment at a research institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Yet my scholarly conformity did not last long. Within a year or two, I was sick and tired of repeating the same formulas. More and more often, I worked on subjects unconventional among Soviet medievalists at that time. For example, I preferred social history to economic; I did not try to show "the inevitable and constant worsening of the peasants' living standards," but I attempted to see the real changes in the peasants' conditions, even if the change was for the better. The same occurred in regard to the topic of class struggle, a favorite theme of Marxist studies. I was more interested in the relations within a social class than between classes. I preferred to study the history of medieval chivalry rather than of the producers of material values.

I do not mean in the least that I denied the value of a Marxist approach to history. I was only trying to extricate myself a bit from those fetters and approach medieval history from a broader perspective. This appeared, however, to be quite enough to give me a reputation as an ideologically unreliable person. Fortunately, at the time of the "Khrushchev thaw," the institute authorities saw a need to make use of people who could offer something different from moldy old truisms. It was at this time that I managed to publish my first book,4 a work in which I tried to prove that the West European medieval village had no social classes and to stress the noneconomic nature of most of the social relations. I did not have to wait long for the reaction of orthodox historians. A colleague of mine with whom I had been on friendly terms suddenly turned against me and leveled sharp criticisms. He included me in the group of well-known medievalists and historians of classical antiquity who sought to revise key problems in the history of pre-capitalist societies. We were all accused of "subversive ideological activities" directed against the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism.

The article in which he made these charges was not published in some obscure, insignificant journal: it appeared in the central organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, called "The Comm~nist."~

Some people regarded this attack as a signal for a new round of witch hunts. Fortunately, that dismal prediction did

Iu. Bessmertnyi, Derevnia i qnok u Zapadnoi Europe 12-13 vekov (pa severo-frantsuzkim i zapadnonemetskim materialam) (Moscow, 1969). 5 A. I. Danilov, "0metodologicheskikh iskaniiakh nekotorykh sovetskikh istorikov," Kommunist, no. 5 (1968).

Yuri L. Bessmertny

not come true, for repression, which had been easy to launch in the 1930s and 1940s, frequently misfired now that a new generation of people nicknamed "the men of the sixties" (shestidesiatniki) had come to the fore. But many professional medievalists and historians of antiquity approved of this criticism of us. It gave these lazy minds a chance to save the moldy ideas they had been promoting for years and to teach a lesson to the adherents of so-called scholarly ad-libbing (otsebiatina).

Thus the formation of two opposite trends in our medieval studies (and not only in medieval studies) began. These trends were given various names: one was called "Marxist," the other "structuralist" (at one time, my colleagues and I were accused of being too fond of structuralism). One was "orthodox," the other "revisionist" (to "revise" Marxism was at one time considered equal to being an "enemy of the people"). In recent years, the labels became more civil, like "official" and "unofficial" or "classical" and "non-classical." Yet the essence of the differ- ences was always the sanie: the new trend in medieval studies, with its variety of themes and approaches, differed from the old in its refusal to act on the principle of pleasing authorities by following official ideology, in its denial of the axiomatic character of Marxist methodology, and in its decisive rejection of the traditional, a priori dismissals of non-Marxist historiography.

READERSSOON NOTICED THE DIFFERENCE between the two camps. The scholarly papers read by historians of the new trend (such as S. S. Averintsev, Iurii M. Lotman, Viacheslav V. Ivanov, Alexander P. Kazhdan, Leonid M. Batkin, Aron Ia. Gurevich, Mikhail Gasparov, Elena M. Shtaerman)6 attracted large crowds of listeners; sometimes, young people tried to storm the lecture halls in which these scholars were to speak. Their publications were enormously successful, and the authors were invited everywhere, surprisingly enough even to address audiences of physicists, chemists, and biologists. All this happened in the years of purported "stagnation," evidently an indication of the growing number of people impatient for change, if only among the intelligentsia. Naturally, the reception enjoyed by such work could only make the ideological confrontation between the two camps more acute.

The traditionalists did not loiter. When I managed to publish an unorthodox article on forms of peasant dependence in Western Europe in the Early Middle Ages, their response was swift. Although the essay appeared not in Moscow but in a collection of articles published by the provincial university press of Nizhnii Novgorod7 and might have seemed unlikely to cause any trouble whatever, some "anxious scholars" soon appeared in Nizhnii Novgorod, and Moscow as well, who were eager to attack an attempt to deny the serfdom-like (krepostnicheskii) character of peasant dependence in Western Europe. This would be tantamount to saying that West European peasants were different from Russian serfs and could therefore provide a point of departure for disparaging historical laws, for

See below, notes 17-23. 7 "K tipologii form krest'ianskoi zavisimosti v stranakh Zapadnoi i Iugo-Zapadnoi Evropy," in Stran? Sredzremnomona v srerlnic veka, vol. 2 (Gorkii, n.d.)

allowing an "anti-patriotic slighting" of Russian feudalism, and for ignoring "the commandments" of V. I. Lenin. Next, the Academic Council at the Ministry of Higher Education was convened. About two dozen professors adopted a resolu- tion condemning the article as "fallacious" and the editorial board as lacking in vigilance. The ministry had not yet even asked historians for their opinion on the matter when a number of scholars at Nizhnii Novgorod University rqised an outcry, asking why the university staff's political reliability and fidelity to party principles should be doubted because of some medievalist from Moscow. The problem was quickly solved: the article was condemned, the publication of the collection stopped, and the medievalist in question suspended from teaching.

This was small trouble. Another example may be more compelling. A large group of researchers representing several institutes had for ten years, beginning from the late 1960s, been working on a vast project: a history of the West European peasantry in the Middle Ages. This work was the only research for which many scholars in the group received salaries, and for those times, rather large salaries. Several volumes were completed, a new general conception suggested, and some original conclusions made. It was these features of the project and the fact that medievalists of the "unofficial trend" took part in the collective work that determined its fate.

The minister of education himself joined in the discussion to approve or reject the collective work for publication. This man, Alexander I. Danilov, had once been a medievalist and a well-known one at that. Danilov easily persuaded the orthodox professors to kill the project. The method they used was absurdly simple and reeked of old times. Danilov stated that the project tended to revise the well-proved concepts of Marxist medieval studies, and, for the participants of the discussion and especially for the authorities of the institute, it was an argument not to be disputed. All the attempts of the chief editor, a much-respected academician,B to defend the work, as well as my own exhortations (I was then deputy-chief editor), were skillfully countered. A certain medievalist in our institute, a party functionary, called the chief editor aside and asked him, "Hasn't instructor So-and-so of the Central Party Committee spoken to you yet? Mind you, he has quite a negative opinion of this work." The same person went to the institute authorities and informed them of the same fact. Did the "negative opinion" of the highest authority on matters scholarly really exist? I never found out, but the essential thing is that a mere supposition that "above," among the powers that be, a "negative opinion" might exist, making the publication of a special work on medieval history undesirable, was sufficient to have the project dropped for the next eleven years. Only in 1985-1986, after the beginning of perestroika, was the work published.9

While the project was being prepared, several chief editors replaced each other; the first was Sergei D. Skazkin, but at the approval stage for volume 1, the post was held by Lev \'. Cherepnin.

Vstoriia krcst'ianstua 21Europe: Epoklza feodalizma, 3 vols. (Moscow, 1983-86). One of the hypotheses that is of importance in the history of the European peasantry concerns the causes of the origin of a dependent peasantry. We denied the concept of the dissolution of the peasant community as the principal cause of dependence; we denied the idea that inequality played the main part in the phenomenon. 'To put it simply, the dependent state of the medieval peasantry came as a natural consequence of the process of socialization of a barbarian society (I am speaking now of regions of

Yuri L. Bessmertny

How COULD IT HAPPEN that dozens of important scholars, reviewers, members of scholarly councils, researchers at different institutes-the people who determine the fate of a publication-kept silent in the face of the arbitrary intervention of a few apparatchiks? It becomes comprehensible only within the context of the history of the Soviet intelligentsia. The first purge of Russian intellectuals took place in the early 1920s. In 1922, 160 disobedient members of the intelligentsia were deported from Russia by the decision of the GPU (State Political Department), without trial or hearing. Among them was the rector of the University of Petrograd, the well-known medievalist Lev Karsavin, one of the first researchers of medieval mentaliti, the author of numerous books on the history of religious life in Italy during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, on the philosophy of personality, and other themes."' This purge was a warning to other intellectuals, those still not willing to obey. Within a couple of years, Mikhail Bakhtin was arrested and exiled from Leningrad; his work on Rabelaisian France is widely known." At about the same time, another outstanding specialist in the history of medieval culture and West European Christianity, Robert Vipper, was forced to emigrate from Russia." At the end of the 1920s, academician Dmitrii Petrush- evskii, the author of several remarkable books on English feudalism, became the helpless victim of disparaging criticism, and the Institute of History, of which he had been the director, was ~losed.~~etrushevskii's

nearest disciple, one of the most talented students of the West European Early Middle Ages, Alexander Neusykhin, a person of rare human qualities and the highest moral standards, was dismissed and for a long time unable to get a job in his special field.l4 The

comparatively weak Komanization). The socialization subjected villagers either to public powers or to "private powers" of various forms.

Another interesting hypothesis in the work refers to the understanding of peasant culture. Unlike Bakhtin, we strove to speak not of two cultures, and not even of intertwined cultures. Together with Gurevich, we believe that medieval culture had a certain shared vision of the world, common to all social groups. This does not exclude the view that in different groups (social and intellectual as well), this shared vision could find different expression and could involve additional new ideas and attitudes.

A third hypothesis deserving attention concerns European servitude. It is sharply opposed to the notion of serfdom and to the later servitude in Eastern Europe during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. To my mind, the English villeinage or the German Leibeigenschaft are exceptional, not typical examples of European servitude.

The fourth hypothesis refers to the problem of choosing criteria for a typology of the development of the peasantry in different geographic regions and time periods. We stressed the importance of a system of criteria that includes not only the forms of peasant dependence but also the structure of the ruling class, the character of the peasant household, natural and climatic conditions, and other factors.

lo L. P. Karsavin, Oclzerki religioznoi zhizni u Italii XII-XIII uekou (St. Petersburg, 1912); Osnouy srednevekovoi religioznosti, preimuchshestuenno u Italii (Petrograd, 1913). See also L. P. Karsavin, Diulogi (Berlin, 192 1).

l1 M. M. Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, Helene Iswolsky, trans. (Cambridge, Mass., 1968).

'2 R. Iu. Vipper, Vliianie Kal'vina i kal'riinizma na politickeskie ucheniia i dz~izltenniia XVI ueka: Tserkou' i gosudurstuo u Zlzeneue XVI ueka z~ epoklzu kal'z~inizma (Moscow, 1894); Obshchestvennye ucheniia i istoricheskie teorii XVIII i XIX vz~. v sviazi s obshchestvennym duizheniem na Zapade (Moscow, 1900).

M. Petrushevskii, Vosstunie C1ota Tailera (St. Petersburg, 1897-1901); Ocherki iz istorii sred- nevekovogo obshchestvu i gosudarstva (Moscow, 1907); Ochrrki iz istoni angliiskogo gosudurstua i obshchestua v srednie veka (St. Petersburg, 1903).

A. I. Neusvkhin, Dreunie gernzants! (Moscow, 1929); Die Entstehung drr ubhungigen Bauernschuft uls


well-known Petersburg medievalists Nikolai Kareev and Ivan Grevs were deprived of practically every opportunity to publish their works, although they retained their professorial positions.

The situation grew even more oppressive in the 1930s. The continual fear of arrest and physical extinction locked tight the minds and souls of the people. An episode from the life of one of the brightest Moscow medievalists may serve as an illustration of the unbearable atmosphere of those years. Unable to live under the constant threat of arrest, this man went to the NKVD (the Peoples' Commissariat of the Interior) and asked the officers to arrest him, as he was not "Marxist." Though not arrested, he soon went mad. These were the conditions that caused an inner degeneration of the scholarly intelligentsia in the Soviet Union. Unfet- tered thought, the spirit of free inquiry, and attachment to world culture were disappearing from their moral code; spiritual timidity, subservience, and dogma- tism took their place.

A sinister part was played in the suppression of free thought among historians by party decrees published in the first postwar years.I3 Nearly all independent medievalists, those who somehow managed to stand their ground, were accused of "kowtowing to Western culture" when they made use of the work of Western scholars, of an "objectivist" (that is, not abusive) attitude toward non-Marxist science, of overestimation of the role of ideas in history, and of so-called juridism (excessive attention to the terms and formulas of documents). These criticisms were encouraged by the campaign of anti-cosmopolitanism mentioned earlier.

Only during the years of the "Khrushchev thaw" and after the 20th Party Congress was there a short break in this type of criticism, and it was during that break that the new trend in Soviet historiography came to life. Unfortunately, it could not alter the overall situation.

FORMANY DECADES, Soviet historians, medievalists among them, lived under the sword of Damocles. They were forced either to share all the views of their chiefs and so retain some possibility of professional activity or to reject them and gain a reputation as freethinkers, placing in jeopardy not only their professional activity and publications but their very physical existence. Understandably, even talented scholars usually preferred to conform.

The conditions that obtained before August 1991, and that allowed a restora- tion of the situation before perestroika in the field of history, continue to exist. One of the most important is the continuing influence of conservative scholars in the universities and other educational institutions. (One must keep in mind that our research institutes are almost completely divorced from the educational system of the country.) University students are taught today nearly the same things they were taught half a century ago. Very characteristic are the contents of

Klasse . . . in Westeuropu uom 6. his 8. Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1961): Sud'hy suobod?~ogo krest'ianstua u Germanii u VIII-XI1 vv. (Moscow, 1964).

'5 I mean the well-known decrees of the Central Committee of the CPSU of 1946, "On the Magazines Zvezda and Leningrad," which determined exactly what writers, critics, and all scholars of the humanities must and must not do.

Yuri L. Bessmertny

the recently published two-volume textbook of the history of the Middle Ages for history departments of universities.'" It is the only textbook used in universities throughout the country for the study of medieval history, since it is practically impossible to publish competing works. The textbook has some merit: there are a few interesting chapters in it. But what about its general conception? The book retains many of the old dogmatic assertions that have been imposed on students in higher education for many decades. The editors still insist on the need to counter "bourgeois history" with Marxist methodology, as Marxism is able to reveal the whole truth, while bourgeois history (so the introduction claims) "has not been able to suggest any unified definition of the notion 'the Middle Ages'" (vol. 1, p. 6). Marxist historians, on the contrary, have been quite successful in creating such a definition. The interpretation of the editors of the textbook is considered to be beyond doubt and shared by all Soviet scholars without exception (vol. 1, pp. 38-39).

The authors of the textbook reproduce the traditional conception of the so-called social and economic formation as well as the idea of the succession of the five principal methods of production: primitive, slave-owning, feudal, capitalist, and socialist (vol. 1, pp. 7-1 1; vol. 2, pp. 20 and pnssim).We read that "feudal society, as well as any other class society, was characterized at every stage of its development by the constant everyday struggle of peasants against their feudal lords . . . Massive anti-feudal uprisings of peasants and commoners were an integral part of the early bourgeois revolutions, which played a decisive role in the overthrow of the feudal system" (vol. 1, pp. 11-12). With these a priori statements, the authors and editors leave aside much that has been achieved by historical scholarship in recent decades, such as a new understanding of the specific character of the West European Middle Ages as a whole and the character of the transitional period from the Middle Ages to modern times. The authors of a number of chapters base their argumentation, as did their predecessors fifty years before, on citations from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. I am not trying to deny anybody the right to appeal to Marx and Engels for methodological instruction: historians can choose the philosophic maxims or general hypotheses they deem most convincing. But one cannot accept theory without a critical eye.

It cannot but cause general amazement that the editors of this recently published work are still pondering the world historical process with the explicit supposition of the victory of socialism. The creators of the textbook have somehow neglected to look out the window and see what is happening in the world around them. The traditional, or-to be more exact-conservative, trend in Russian medieval studies still holds its position rather strongly, and, I am afraid, it will not be an easy task to overcome it, not in the near future, anyway.

INTHE BEGINNING OF MY ESSAY, I mentioned the people for whom the victorious coup would have meant inevitable intellectual death. I meant, first and foremost,

'Vstorzzu srednikh urko?), 2 vols. (Yloscotv. 1990-91), a textbook for university history departments edited by Z.L'. Udal'tsova. S. P. Karpov, P/ ul.

those of my colleagues who for the last twenty or thirty years have been opposing the conservative trend in historiography as a whole, and in medieval studies in particular. In the course of the last five or six years, the confrontation has become especially acute. There have appeared new inter-institute seminars: for example, the seminar on historical memory, under the direction of Iurii N. Afanasiev; on historical psychology, headed by~ron Ia. Gurevich; on the history of everyday life, headed by Georgii S. Knabbe; on the history of European civilizations, headed by Alexander 0. Chubarian and Mikhail M. Narinskii; and on historical demography, under my direction. In the philosophy department of Moscow University, a new program on the History of World Culture was added, headed by Viacheslav Vs. Ivanov.

Some of the scholars of this pleiad of historians have become well known outside their research institutes. Of those mentioned, S. A. Averintsev and V. Vs. Ivanov were elected to the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR; L. M. Batkin is now a leading publicist; Aron Gurevich is well known by his publications and public speeches in defense of free research in the humanities. (Even more popular now is Iurii Afanasiev, rector of the Humanities University of Kussia, one of the leaders of the democratic movement.) All this is hardly accidental, as one of the most important, central aspects of the revolution in my country is the revival, I could even say resurrection, of the individual and individual freedom. It is the history of people (rather than of productive forces) that comes to the foreground in the scholarly works of most of our medievalists and historians of other specialties, those who since the 1960s have formed the new trend in Soviet historiography. It is only natural that their work should be closely connected with certain beliefs and attempts to defend civic ideals in everyday political practice.

Among the brightest scholars of this trend I would mention first of all Aron Gurevich. His works have been translated into English and some other languages (see in particular Categories of Medieval Culture and Medieval Popular Culture)." One of his principal ideas is the necessity to make use of the hidden dialogue between the pastor and his flock to comprehend stereotypical behaviors of the "silent majority" in medieval communities. Gurevich holds that such a dialogue may be "overheard" in virtually all medieval didactic texts. An analysis of such a dialogue should constitute the starting point for a characterization of common representations and attitudes, of common ideas of the world, society, and themselves, typical of the people of the Middle Ages. Even though most of these ideas were not held at a conscious level, Gurevich's approach has opened up new possibilities of understanding the stereotypical attitudes that must have guided the behavior of medieval people whether they were conscious of it or not.

Gurevich believes that comprehension of these stereotypes allows us to under- stand the "mechanism" of social existence, for all the events and processes in the world are directly brought about as a result of the perceptions of those who live and act in it. Thus Gurevich's approach to the study of mental structures may

A. Ia. Gurevich, Categories of Medieval Culture (London, 1985); Medieval Popular Culture: Problem of Beliefund Perception (Cambridge, Mass., 1988); see also Srednevekovyi mir: Kul'tura bezmolvstvuiush- chego bol'shinstva (Moscow, 1990). At present, Gurevich is head of the project "Man in History" at the Institute of General History in Moscow.

serve as a cornerstone for our understanding of the interrelation of events and processes on the one hand and common socio-cultural concepts on the other. In other words, this approach offers a new method of historical synthesis.

One of the most characteristic features of Gurevich's works, as well as of the new trend in Russian medieval studies as a whole, is a constant endeavor to evaluate epistemologically the means and methods of research. To what extent are the historian's conclusions subjective, when he or she makes use of different methods of research? How do these methods reflect the relativity of our knowledge of the past? These questions and their accompanying discussions take up a considerable part of the works of historians belonging to this trend and, in particular, the works of Leonid Batkin, author of a number of books on the history of the Italian Renaissance, among them a recent book on Leonardo da Vinci (Batkin's works have been published in Italy, Germany, and other coun- tries). Batkin supposes that, for a greater knowledge of the past, it is important to keep to the "complementary principle," which implies that any research of mass performance, by the method suggested, for example, by Gurevich, should be complemented by research into the unique in culture and history. In other words, a sociological insight into a text must necessarily be followed by its "culturological" analysis. The latter, as Batkin states, supposes a certain "unique insight" into each individual text, which in its turn should be considered a unique sample of the intellectual image of a unique person of each given epoch. The combination of both methods results in a dialectic between individual freedom and the submis- sion of an individual to mass stereotypes of behavior.]*

Another aspect of epistemological anxiety of the historians of the new trend is the influence of "non-source knowledge" on the researcher. I mean the knowl- edge, ideas, and attitudes that have been formed willy-nilly in the mind of each historian before he or she starts an analysis of a text. First of all, this is the knowledge acquired under the influence of the works written by our predeces- sors; second, that formed under the influence of scholarly or philosophic theories of the historian's own time and place; third, the ideas, perceptions, and attitudes imposed by the interests and demands of the eventual reader of the historian's works. (As far as I can judge, no one can avoid possessing this non-source knowledge.)

This knowledge leaves its imprint on every aspect of the historian's research, but in some cases the imprint is more telling. In the demographic history of medieval France, I tried to show that in order to comprehend population development more objectively, two main principles should be kept in mind. We must constantly verify our understanding of the processes and events in the demographic sphere in the light of the concepts and perception of these processes and events by their contemporaries. Also, we must be aware that our non-source knowledge may distort our hypotheses about the processes and events of the past even more than our hypotheses about the stereotypical perception of these

'8 See Leonid M. Batkin; "Dva sposoba izuchat' istoriiu kulturp," Voprosy JilosoJii, no. 12 (1986); Leonardo da Vinci i osobennosti renessanskogo tvorcheskogo myshleniyia (Moscow, 1990), 372-73 in particular. See also Leonid RI. Batkin, Die hirstorische Gesamtheit der itc~lienischen Renaissa~~ce (Dresden, 1979);Leonardo da Vinci (Bari, 1989); Gli umatii,~tic italiani: Stiie di vita e di perlsiero (Bari, 1990).

processes by medieval people. The phenomenon of social processes is complex in its inner structure, and therefore it resists adequate comprehension. These were the principles I tried to illustrate in my book Life and Death in the Middle Ages just published in Moscow.lg In regard to the new epistemological approach in medieval and ancient studies, I should also mention the works of Iurii L~tman,~O a specialist in history, literature, and semiotics; Viacheslav I~at-mv,~l

a linguist, philosopher, and Asian historian; Sergei Averintsev,2'-' a philosopher and histo- rian of literature. I want to stress, too, that these people have always tied their defense of their scholarly principles to a defense of the ideals of freedom and civil rights.23 It is only natural that these scholars oppose any attempt at restoration of the old regime and that they receive the vigorous support of their students and numerous admirers.

I WOULD BE HAPPY TO CONCLUDE my essay on an optimistic note by saying that the future of Russian medieval studies, as well as the future of the whole of historical scholarship in my country, belongs to people like those I have mentioned. Alas, at present, there is no reason to be optimistic in this respect. The struggle is very far from over. The future of our medieval studies, like the future of many other spheres of intellectual life in my country, essentially depends on the outcome of the fight between those supporting the new tendencies and their adversaries. The confrontation goes far beyond the natural and customary limits of debate characteristic of the scholarly milieu elsewhere. In my country, as I have tried to show, these differences are expressed with intolerance. The struggle of ideas in today's Russian historiography is tightly interwoven with the struggle of political sympathies and antipathies. It is no less important that, during the recent seventy-odd years, tolerance toward dissident opinion and free thought in general was rooted out from every area of Soviet life. Our mental stereotypes, whether we

'9 Recently, a new occasional publication has appeared in Moscow, published by A. Gurevich as chief editor and myself as deputy-chief editor. The publication bears the name Odysseus: Man in Histoly and prints papers by historians, philosophers, and culturologists of the new trend in our historiography. Some of the materials published in Odysseus have been reprinted in L'Homme et l'histoire (Moscow, 1990). Iu. L. Bessmertnyi, Zhizn' i smert' v srednie veka: Ocherki demograficheskoi istorii Frantsii (Moscow, 199 1).

z0 Iu. M.Lotman, Crtzi-oerse of the Mind: A Semiotic Theoq of Culture (London, 1990): Semiotica e cultura, (Milan, 1975).

fl V. V. Ivanov, Eirlfiihrung in nllgemeine Probleme der Semiotik (Tiibingen, 1985). One of the most important works of Ivanov (in co-authorship with T. V. Gamkrelidze), Indoevropekkii iazyk i indoevrop~itsy(Tbilisi, 1984), has not been translated into foreign languages, as far as I know.

"S. S. Averintsev, Plutarkh i antichnaia biografiia (Moscow, 1973); Poetika rannevizantiiikoi literatuly (Moscow, 1977).

'Were I would like to mention another name I have mentioned before briefly, a scholar of considerable importance: A. P. Kazhdan. Even before his forced emigration, he had played an outstanding role in medieval studies and published several books on the history of Byzantium and early Christianity. The Western reader may know such works of Kazhdan as People and Power in Byzantium (together with Giles Constable) (Washington, D.C., 1982);Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Berkeley, Calif., 1985); The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (New York, 1986, 1991). See also Kazhdan's articles on Soviet medieval studies: "Soviet Studies on Medieval Western Europe: A Brief Survey," Speculum, 57 (1982): 1-19; "Livres soviktiques recents sur la culture du iMoyen Age et de la Renaissance: Observations d'un byzantiniste," Annales: E.S.C., 2 (1980).

Yuri L. Bessmertny

are conscious of the fact or not, are burdened with the quest for ideological dictates. The situation is further complicated by moral irresponsibility on the part of some scholars and the domination for several decades in both politics and ideology of the principle "the end justifies the means." Though never openly admitted, the principle was encouraged by political practice. As a result, even now, numerous enthusiastic adherents of the past are prepared to turn scholarly arguments into ideological struggles and to use any means to crush an opponent. Last but not least, the country's political instability aggravates the climate of mutual suspicion and disloyalty.

I am afraid that I can offer only these not very comforting observations as a conclusion to a medievalist's meditations on the coup of August 1991.

September 1991

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