This chapter is from the earlier draft version of the book "Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus"
History and Memory
(This chapter is from the earlier draft version of the book "Bourdieu's Secret Admirer in the Caucasus")
by Georgi Derluguian
Georgi Derluguian was born in 1961 in Krasnodar, the North Caucasus region of Russia. In 1978-1985 he attended Moscow State University obtaining a degree (summa cum laude) in African studies. His first dissertation investigated the social and environmental aspects of guerrilla wars in Mozambique which he directly observed during the two-year stay in that country. In an ironic way, in May 1989 this work earned a major recognition by being censored at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR for what was termed a “gross if not malicious exaggeration of the difficulties of socialist orientation in the conditions of Africa”. In 1990 Derluguian joined the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilizations at Binghamton University defending his second doctoral degree (a Ph.D. in sociology) in 1995. Subsequently Georgi Derluguian held appointments at the University of Michigan, Cornell, Universite de Bordeaux (France), and the US Institute of Peace. In 1997 he joined the International Studies Program and Department of Sociology at Northwestern University where he presently holds the rank of Associate Professor. Georgi Derluguian is the author of numerous articles, book chapters and essays translated into Japanese, Polish, Korean, Chinese, Italian, Spanish and Turkish. He also gives public lectures, writes for major newspapers in the United States, Mexico, and his native Russia and appeared as an expert on ethnic conflicts and terrorism on CNN, Fox News, PBS and Oprah Winfrey show. Derluguian’s research and teaching were recognized by numerous awards including the MacArthur Peace and Security Fellowship and Carnegie Scholar of Vision. His most recent book is Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in the Caucasus: A World-System Biography (University of Chicago Press, 2005) which earned Honorable Mention of the Political Sociology section of American Sociological Association and was listed by the Times Literary Supplement among Books of the Year.
Chapter 3 History and Memory
A compressed analytical description should give us a map on which to chart a specific trajectory. This would serve us to reduce the ambiguities and help to formulate the questions towards eventually building a systematic explanation. We must try to walk between the extremes of epic narratives which extend the present-day conflicts back to the centuries-old feuds, and the immediate political analyses which reduce contention to intrigues. Our focus is on the medium-run temporality, or Fernand Braudel’s (1986) time of conjoncture, where operate the effects of large-scale structural change. We are seeking to specify how these effects run through the structure of power shaping the organizational resources and the ideas of what the contenders consider possible (Tilly 1997, p. 113).
In the Balkans or the Caucasus visitors insistently hear that they cannot comprehend today’s ethnic wars without knowing the history. How much truth is in it?
Between the demise of the Golden Horde in the 1390s and the arrival of Russian colonialism in the 1770s, military power in the North Caucasus belonged to the stateless alliances of heavily-armed horseback warriors considered noblemen. The Turks and the Genoese travelers summarily called them the Cherkess or Circassians among whom the Kabardins were the elite tribe. They exacted feudal dues from the foothill peasant communities in exchange for the protection from the nomadic Tatar rovers. The medieval Kabardin network of feudal protection extended to a number of indigenous peoples like the Balkars and the Chechens. The Kabardin elite invented elaborate codes based on mutual loyalty, family honor, combat valor, and the lordly conspicuous consumption – in stateless society the fragile guarantee of chieftain's life rested on his reputation as a fearsome warrior and valued friend (Bgazhnokov 1999; Earle 1997).
The Kabardin monopoly of violence, derived from the possession of expensive armor and battle horses, was eroded towards the mid-eighteenth century with the proliferation of cheaper guns among peasants.
The gunpowder revolution arrived in the Caucasus early in the seventeenth century. After the adaptational time lag of several generations, it enabled a series of social revolutions. In the Caucasus, the effect of gunpowder was nearly the opposite to what was the Western experience.1 Instead of empowering bigger states capable of supporting standing armies and large bureaucracies, in the Caucasus guns led to the fragmentation of aristocratic hierachies and a peasant democratization.
The guns were imported in large quantities from the manufacturing centers of northern Italy, Germany, and Ottoman empire via the Crimean Tatar khanate and the trade fairs on the Black sea coast. Fairly soon, however, the local smiths learned to imitate the imported weapons, and in this they achieved a great success. In Daghestan, where the arable land was always very scarce and whole villages derived income from skilled metalworks and other crafts, there emerged a cottage industry of gun manufacturing based on an intricate division of labor between the differently specialized villages.2 It is estimated that in the mid-nineteenth century, at the peak of this early industrialization, Daghestan alone produced up to twenty thousand rifles a year.
The majority were indeed the grooved-barrel rifles of remarkable quality and shooting precision. Rifles have been known in Europe since the sixteenth century but they were rarely used except for hunting mainly because reloading a rifle from the muzzle side took seven to ten minutes. The relative speed of reloading favored the smooth-barrelled muskets, and thus the armies of imperial states substituted for precision with the sheer mass of fire on the battlefield. In an indicative episode, the Russian commander tried to reason before the battle to his Circassian adversary: Your lads are probably ten times better shots than my soldiers, but I have a hundred times more soldiers.3
A major obstacle to state-making in the Caucasus was and, to some extent, still today remains the mountainous terrain. It favored sniping from behind the trees and rocks — essentially a hunting skill — over marching in formation and hauling cannons into the battlefield. Since the eighteenth century the Caucasian warriors relied on the muzzle-loading rifles and pistols in combination with the newly-invented lighter and less curved version of sabre, the famous Caucasian shashka, used in upright position to support the rifle while aiming and, after the shot, for slashing in close combat. It was not only a very deadly combination but, as it turns out, it was remarkably cheaper compared to the battle gear of earstwhile knights. The full combat attire of a Kabardin aristocrat plus the pure-bred battle horse in the mid-eighteenth century was estimated to cost, depending on the quality and the amount of artistic embellishments, from several hundred up to two thousand Russian rubles. By comparison, a good locally-manufactured rifle cost five to eight rubles.4 This was still a hefty cost equivalent to several cows. But it was no longer outside the range of a well-to-do farmer or a lucky peasant lad who ambushed his clan's enemy on a mountain pathway and took his horse and weapons.
The effect of guns on social structure was probably not immediate. The ages-old cultural traditions derived from aristocratic warfare continued to exercise a strong influence well into the nineteenth century when the mountain princes were still observed proudly wearing their splendid chainmails. But here is the folkloric anecdote from the 1760s that captured the moment of historical change. To prostest the exactions of noblemen, the Kabardin commoners gathered by the thousand at the extraordinary convention held at the meadow that apparently possessed a scared status. This event is known as the rebellion of Domalei by the nickname of its leader that translates as "too much shoulders" indicating Domalei's extraordinary physical strength. A Kabardin aristocrat, returning from a successful raid and leading several recently captured horses, met the crowd of peasants walking to join Domalei. When the aristocrat learned their purpose, he laughed disparingly: What can you, the naked rabble, do with your stinking guns against the noble steel of my saber and chainmail? To this, a grim-looking peasant took his rifle from the back and uttered: That we shall see now. The grave of selfassured aristocrat stood by the roadside until the 1960s when it was paved over during the extension of mountain highway.5
The dispersion of affordable and well-crafted rifles allowed the Caucasus communal small-holders to resist the tribute-collecting horseback noblemen. Bluntly said, there was now a good chance that a daring or desperate commoner might put a bullet through the wonderful and wonderfully expensive chainmail of Kabardin or whatever native nobleman who came in a village to demand his customary annual offerings of sheep, the couple sacks of grain, and perhaps the hide of wild fox from each household, if not attempted under the cover of night an altogether bandit attack in the hope of seizing a horse or, still better, a Circassian girl, traditionally famed for their beauty, who then might be sold to the Turkish harems. At least a quarter of all reports by the eighteenth-century Russian officials stationed along the North Caucasus frontier mention exactly this sort of micro-rebellions by the newly empowered peasants. The enraged and humiliated noblemen rushed to the imperial fortresses, claiming that they were Russian allies and asking for soldiers to discipline the unruly subjects.6 These archives are awaiting their Charles Tilly.
Cumulatively, the proliferation of privately-owned guns and the concomitant democratization of warfare led to the self-emancipation of North Caucasian farmers. It also created an anarchic and inherently dangerous social environment. Many villages get fortified in this period, their size grows bigger as people sought mutual protection, and the clan structures seem to get more pronounced as the people reasserted group solidarities. The new 'democratic' villages and the self-governing leagues of villages acquired the semi-permanent militias, and in such communities the traditional rituals of young male initiation were reconfigured to center on the explicitly military function of defense and raiding against the enemies.7 There emerged the new category of the champion warriors of relatively humble origin whose reputations allowed them to bargain for their mercenary services with many villages at a time. There also appear the popular Islamic preachers who propagated, to use Michael Mann's term, the doctrine of 'normative pacification'.8
The impact of new gunpowder technology on social organization looked like the gross violation of unilinear evolutionary schemes upheld by the Soviet Marxist orthodoxy. Instead of 'mountain feudalism' progressing toward absolutist monarchy and then perhaps bourgeois revolution, the social organization of North Caucasian peoples seemed to have undergone in the eighteenth century a marked 'regression' to the archaic forms of clan and tribe. This anomaly led the Soviet historians into the clumsy attempts to explain away the observed historical phenomena. The theories of Soviet-era Caucasian anthropologists predicted that the archaic traits should be more pronounced among the 'backward' populations of the upper mountain ranges. Yet the strength and extensiveness of clan organization was the highest among those peoples of the North Caucasus, mainly the Chechens, whose not too distant ancestors actively colonized the foothills and in the process overthrew the aristocratic rule. If anything, their clans were not ancient and 'traditional'.
The rebellious farmers forged their solidarities by reinventing and reinforcing kinship networks, the village neighbor communities, and the leagues of villages. Previously, these served mostly the circles of matrimonial and economic-ecological exchanges. In the new historical situation, the traditional horizontal networks became primarily the repositories of collective legal-ethical and military powers. The goal was the collective appropriation and protection of earthly assets. These communities, many of them newly founded, developed elaborate and strict ethical codes and in some instances (mainly in Daghestan) even the formal written law that prescribed as major civic obligation the possession of weapons and participation in common defense. But let us not idealize the peasant self-liberation out of its historical context, as do today the romantic advocates of Caucasian democratic traditions. The new community norms unambiguously sanctioned the exclusion of women from civic life and also the possession of slaves by free commoners although we have little systematic data regarding how widespread was the slave labor in the democratic communities of the North Caucasus.9
The historical transition to the regime of private land property collectively secured by the armed citizens did not mean an archaization. It was democratization conducted largely for the same reasons and through the similar social mechanisms that two and half thousand years earlier drove the democratization in the early Greek and Roman poleis.10 The hypothesis of warrior-peasant democratization in the Caucasus during the 1760s-1850s seems to find theoretical support in its consistency with Max Weber's discussion of city-states.11 This seems so despite the fact that there were few real towns in the North Caucasus — most villages consisted of semi-permanent structures that could be moved or abandoned if the enemy threatened or the surrounding fields got exhausted. Nevertheless the village communities, leagues of villages, and tribes just as well could serve an analogous function of democratic organization for the purposes of collective military protection of private land property and trading rights.
In Daghestan, however, many villages grew into the sizable fortified towns with substantial trade fairs, artisanal manufacturing, and elaborate civic institutions.12 Such villages emerged mostly in the zone of mountain terrace agriculture where the tremendous investment of communal effort in building and maintaining the fields, canals, and aqueducts created what Michael Mann calls the 'caging' effect — a labor investment so big that it trapped its creators into the permanent occupation of the same spot and thus led to the development of a civilization.13 The example of Daghestani villages presents another piece of evidence against Karl Wittfogel's notorious 'hydraulic' theory of Oriental despotism14. Evidently, the management of quite complex irrigation systems could be done through the democratic reglamentation of land and water rights in an egalitarian community and without the imposition of an imperial bureaucracy. But we ought to leave here these fascinating aspects of North Caucasian history because arguably they would require a separate treatment.
We only need to take note of one feature that infamously resurfaced in our days: the dependence of warrior's prestige expressed through communal acts of generosity and the ability to procure the more upscale weapons on the profits from raiding for human captives. The agrarian economy of the mountains could not conceivably generate enough surplus to purchase but the simplest weaponry and horses. Therefore raiding for booty and especially the slaves to be sold at the export markets remained a major if not the sole alternative. This practice has been pervasive before the closure of Russian colonial frontiers. In fact, the abolition of slave trade was Russia’s major legitimation for the conquest of the Caucasus in the nineteenth century. In the latter 1990s the practice of seizing and trading hostages emerged once again as a major component of ongoing wars, especially in Chechnya. Today this practice gets reported as an endemic form of terrorism. Its function remains largely the same — to finance the weapons procurement and the lifestyle of professionalized warriors.
The Geopolitical and Social Patterns of Belated Islamization
The commoner social revolution of eighteenth century was accompanied by the popular radical Islamization that replaced the erstwhile multiplicity of pagan cults and the typical religious syncretism of frontier zones. There seems to exist a strong causal association between the peasant democratization, the subsequent resistance to Russian conquest, and the particular brand of Sufi Islamic mysticism that came to be practiced in the North Caucasus fairly recently.
Scholars find few indications of Islamic practices across the North Caucasus prior to the eighteenth century. The exception was Daghestan that has long possessed old towns on the Caspian coast and continuously remained in the orbit of central Islamic societies since the times of Arab caliphate. Even a brief look at the map suggests a clearly geopolitical explanation, namely the importance of Daghestan's littoral zone that offered the only narrow passage between the nomadic world of Great Steppe in northern Eurasia and the world of Middle Eastern agrarian states located to the south. A mere hundred miles away (but those were mountain distances), in the more insular Chechnya, the local pagan beliefs could endure almost to the modern age.15
In the mountains of Ingushetia and Ossetia the relic Christianity lingered after the medieval Byzantine and Georgian missionary efforts. But there were neither priests nor functioning churches. In a consequential divergence, since the 1770s the Ossetians have essentially re-Christianized.16 Evidently the reason is that they happened to inhabit the strategically important valley around the new colonial town of Vladikavkaz. The re-invention of common religious ties to the newly arriving power secured the preferential treatment of Ossetians by Russian authorities.
The neighboring Ingushes were in the beginning only slightly more peripheral in relation to the town but their loyalty was suspect because of cultural-linguistic proximity to the rebellious Chechens. The Ingushes were progressively alienated by the Russian administrators and their Ossetian allies and driven toward a radical Islamization in as late as in the mid-nineteenth century.17 In 1992 the tension between the Ossetians and Ingushes erupted in a fierce territorial dispute with nasty religious and racist undertones.
The geopolitical determinant of religious conversion — that, in turn, operated through the networks of trade, diplomacy, and military alliance/confrontation between the centers of agrarian civilizations and frontier peripheries — becomes still a more robust theoretical explanation as we add more empirical instances from across the Caucasus.18 In the realm of the aristocratic Kabardins and other Circassian peoples we observe the inchoate co-existence of superficial Islam, a tenuous individual Christianity, and relic paganism. There the religious choices shifted back and forth in consonance with the political opportunism of warring princely alliances that intermittently sought patronage by the Ottoman, Persian, and since the mid-sixteenth century, Russian empires (and before that, the Tatar overlords, the Genoese traders, and Byzantine emperors.)
The majority of Abkhazes in fact remain pagan to this day. They worship sacred trees and ancestral graves, which I had a chance to witness as recently as in 2002. The paganism persists despite Abkhazia being situated only a few days of sailing away from Constantinople/Istanbul. Here paganism could endure despite the centuries of superficial Christianization during the Byzantine epoch followed by an equally nominal Islamization when the Turks came to rule the Black sea. The two related reasons for the survival of paganism in Abkhazia are the resource poverty and geopolitics. Only as recently as in the twentieth century, and then mainly in the result of Soviet industrialization, did Abkhazia acquire its exceptionally lucrative monopoly in the internal exports of citrines and the sub-tropical seaside resorts (which subsequently played a major aggravating role in causing the war of 1992-93). Before that, Abkhazia for many centuries has been isolated from the outside world by the inhospitable coastline devoid of harbors and full of malarial swamps, the thorny forests further up the mountain slopes, and the impassable glacier-covered ridges glimmering in the backdrop. In this environment the small indigenous population could produce barely enough to feed themselves. Since the Greek trade colonization in the 6th century B.C.E. and until the Russian naval blockade imposed in the 1830s the region's main export have been slaves. But capturing the humans could be left to the local warring factions. Abkhazia was simply not the kind of land over which the great empires would compete.
A powerful dynamic of conflict was introduced into this religious scene during the social upheavals of the eighteenth century that were followed by nearly five decades of guerrilla war against the advancing Russian empire. The varying strength of Islamic religiosity across the region today largely correlates with the outcomes of the social struggles of two centuries ago which confirms the theories of Barrington Moore and Randall Collins. It does matter in explaining today's political configurations in the North Caucasus where in the past the peasants won their freedom and where the lords prevailed. In turn, explaining these outcomes requires us to take the geopolitics into account.
Presently the Islamic religiosity by any measure is the highest in Chechnya (apparently more so in the mountainous part than in the Russian-influenced and relatively peaceful lowlands) and also in the mountainous zone of Daghestan. It is somewhat lower in Ingushetia, and substantially lower in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachai-Circassia (despite a few small enclaves of renewed Islamic religiosity since 1999 driven in underground). The Islamic presence is almost negligible in today's Adygheia. From Kabardino-Balkaria to Adygheia, these are the areas where historically the process of popular Islamization was checked either by the early imposition of Russian control, or the victory of native aristocratic ranks, or the combination of both factors.
In the eighteenth century the fervent Islamic conversion at the popular level (as opposed to the princely politico-ritual religiosity) spread from Daghestan to Chechnya and then further westward across the whole region. The original source was located in the Sufi religious schools of Daghestan. Indicatively, these religious centers were found outside the old coastal towns that traditionally remained under the domination of rich Muslim merchants, landowners, and the orthodox clerics based in the officially-patronized mosques. (In the Islamic societies, however, Sufism was not regarded a heresy and it usually co-existed with the mosque-based hierarchies in a complex compromise). The most active circles of Sufi instruction emerged in the democratic semi-urban villages in the mountainous zone of Daghestan. In a pattern perhaps not dissimilar from the symbolic races among the Mediterranean city-states in arts, public architecture, and philosophy, the large and well-established villages of Daghestan competed among themselves for attracting the prestigious teachers of religion or raised and endowed their own Koranic scholars.
The conversion spread through the networks of religious brotherhoods (tariqat, literally the 'way') loosely organized around the overlapping circles of Sufi teachers (murshids) and disciples (murids). The numerous itinerant Sufi mystics preached the virtues of equality, moral order, self-discipline, charity, mutual help, and trans-ethnic solidarity among the faithful. They denounced the moral corruption, feuds, greed, selfishness, and arrogance of princes. The most radical among the Sufi preachers also called for the resistance against the infidel powers which was a direct challenge to the early encroachments by the Russian imperial authorities.
Many Russians, back in the nineteenth century and today, blame the religiously-inspired resistance of North Caucasus Muslims on the instigation by Turkish agents or, lately, the Saudi-financed terrorists. This is nonsense like all conspiracy theories. By the late eighteenth century the exhausted and beleaguered Turks could no longer project the military, financial, and least of all ideological power to foster such a massive movement among the Caucasian highlanders. The leaders of the Daghestani and Chechen resistance were acutely aware of this fact and treated the Turkish emissaries often with barely concealed irony and disdain.19
Instead of conspiracy theories, let us note the importance of world-historical context particularly because our textbooks almost entirely ignore this aspect by focusing on the contemporary religious wars in the Christian West.20 In the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries the world of Islam was torn by the inward-oriented geopolitical and ideological confrontation between the two central empires of roughly equal strength, the Ottoman state espousing the majoritarian Sunni orthodoxy and its rival Persia under the Safavi dynasty whose ideological militancy was informed by the minoritarian Shiite orthodoxy. The juxtaposition of imperial geopolitics and theological divergence resulted in a series of truly world wars that involved the North Caucasus as the Turkish and Persian armies sought to outflank each other by marching over Daghestan, Chechnya, and the Circassian lands. The Turko-Persian wars produced a destructive stalemate that exhausted the major Islamic states of the period and, incidentally, greatly decreased the geopolitical pressure on Western Europe during the formative period of capitalism.
But from the latter eighteenth century and until the 1920s, the centers of Islamic ideological militancy shifted to the peripheral outliers, especially the tribal frontiers of Islamic world that now came under the Western pressure. The radical sermon of North Caucasian Sufis squarely belongs in a much wider historical pattern. As Persia entered another phase of imperial decline and Ottoman Turkey turned into the 'sick man of Europe', the broadly analogous movements of religious renovation engulfed the places as distant as the tribal frontiers of Afghanistan, inner Arabia, and the vast realm of Sahara from Sudan to Senegal and from the Hausa emirates of Nigeria to the oases of what today is Libya, the mountains of Atlas, and the French-occupied Algeria. (Incidentally, at the time the Russian imperial authorities were acutely aware of this fact and studied the French experiences in Algeria.) This vast topic, though theoretically very promising and arguably important, remains unexplored by the comparative-historical social scientists.
Our knowledge of religious movement in the North Caucasus is very patchy because the propagation proceeded predominantly in oral forms and only much later the most notable sermons were recorded in Arabic.21 In fact, many popular preachers, especially in Chechnya, were illiterate. The contemporary Russian reports are confused and exceedingly biased for the evident reason that their authors were the colonial officers who knew little about Islam and generally regarded the subject matter a hateful and dangerous manifestation of Asiatic fanaticism. Nevertheless we can deduce that the movement increasingly addressed the aspirations of peasants who were already free from the lordly domination or hoped for the liberation in near future and still in this world. The propagation also carried a strong social-normative message expressed in the demand of installing the universalistic norms of sharia Islamic law. It was in direct criticism of the particularistic tribal codes, or adat that in many instances sanctioned the traditional rank inequality, tribute-taking, trial by princes, and the brutal institutions like blood revenge. The Russian sources registered numerous complaints by the native noblemen who were also warning of impending rebellion and calling for a swift suppression of 'troublemakers' and 'bandits'.
Of course, the actual historical picture was vastly more complicated. Not everywhere the peasants did rebel, and many rebellions were defeated. The Sufi-led struggle for the religious revival and conversion was surely not based exclusively in mountain peasants and tribesmen. At various stages quite many noblemen of different ranks and ethnic groups joined the movement, and subsequently many (though not all) defected from the religious militancy. The Kabardins experienced between the 1750s and the 1810s a series of acute and inchoate struggles around the Islamic project of reorganizing the realm on more centralized, the sharia law-based, and more egalitarian patterns. The aristocratic privileges eventually survived with the support of Russian command, the majority of peasants were forced back into dependency, but a substantial minority of petty noblemen, radical Islamic preachers, and rebellious commoners resettled into the western Circassian lands where the less accessible landscape offered to them a better protection against the Russian colonial armies.
The new 'tribal' democracies furthermore experienced the social dynamics of two kinds: lateral expansion and the emergence of internal military hierarchy. The lateral expansion spreading wherever possible through the military-agrarian colonization and absorption of lesser ethnic groups, in a short period of historical time (say, a century) significantly increased the territories and the populations of lowlands Chechnya as well as the Circassian democratic tribes emerging in the wooded hills along the Black sea.22
The second kind of dynamism was the internal social differentiation among the self-liberated peasants that resulted in the emergence of professional warriors and the charismatic warlords (who resembled in the beginning perhaps just lucky and experienced hunters). Their raiding for booty (mainly livestock) and the human captives for ransom or slave export soon developed into an independent prestigious and socioeconomic activity that in some instances rivaled the erstwhile predatorial warfare of traditional noblemen. Of course, to the native noblemen and the Russian command it was banditry pure and simple, devoid of any traditional aura. Therefore the lucky peasant warlords also tended to become the staunchest supporters of Islamic conversion that provided to them the ideology of holy war against infidels and elevated their own status to that of religious paladin, or ghazi.23
The Sufi leadership itself on numerous occasions split into the competing factions. And ultimately the movement settled down to create the new church-like orthodoxy, a hierarchy of power and privilege, and actually a theocratic state that will be briefly discussed in the following section. This sort of historical complexity, however, is to be expected in a religious movement that in important ways seems analogous to the popular heresies of medieval Europe if not the Reformation itself. There should be enough to occupy the future generations of scholars from the North Caucasus, if only the socioeconomic conditions will allow for the emergence of next generation.
The Social Mechanisms of Actualizing History
The effects from the historical past, however, run into the present not directly but through mediating social mechanisms. First it is the strongly political process of inventing the national traditions that recently became the subject of intense research (Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983). Against the backdrop of the current war in Chechnya, the public opinion in the Caucasus attributes special meaning to the ancestral resistance against the Russian conquest. But this dichotomous epic of good and evil glosses over the social fracturedness of the old jihad: the class struggle of peasants against lords or the convoluted native politics of making deals with the advancing colonial empire.
Furthermore the nationalist epic of anti-Russian resistance directly links the nineteenth-century jihad and the Stalinist purges when in 1944 whole peoples – all Balkars, Ingushes, Chechens – were deported from their homelands ostensibly for aiding the Nazi armies. The real intent of the Stalinist state, as far as it can be deduced from the newly available archival documents, was to break up the native peasant communities that provided basis for the ‘honorable banditry’ and occasional rebellions against the collectivization (Azamatov et al. 1994). There is no continuity though certainly there is a recurrence in the actions of the state that only imperfectly controlled and thus feared the peculiar North Caucasian peasants to whom their daggers, guns, and clan solidarities traditionally served the guarantee of land property.
The nationalists see the continuing imperial master-plan aimed to exterminate the freedom-loving native peoples. Yet to my questions from what sources and when my informants learned about the jihad and deportations, a clear majority admitted that it became an issue only after 1989 when the local newspapers and public rallies helped to weave the big picture of historical injustice. The weak repressive states wrought the tragedies, the weakening democratizing state provided conditions for the memories to coalesce into a major collective grievance.
The second mechanism through which history crucially matters is the institutional framework of national republics. Terry Martin (2001) provides an incisive historical-institutional analysis arguing that the Soviet Union was not a federation but rather a unitary state where power flowed through the central hierarchy of communist party. The bureaucratic appointments within the republics, however, favored their titular nationalities. This was a pro-active Bolshevik policy drawn from the experience of many-sided alliances during the Russian Civil War. For instance, in 1919 the Chechen militias, convinced by the Bolsheviks that Marxism was also a form of jihad, hit the White armies from the rear at a decisive moment in the war and likely saved the Reds (Gakayev 1997).
The Soviet native cadres whose careers entirely depended on the continuation of Soviet institutions, zealously watched against the ‘bourgeois’ nationalism. This arrangement worked well for nearly seventy years. It broke down only after 1989 when Moscow’s sudden incapacitation became widely known and the communist national bureaucracies scrambled to find alternative sources of power. Normally they dropped ‘communist’ to become just the national governments of newly independent states. The strategy of ethnoterritorial affirmative action that was once a major strength of Soviet state, thus determined the way it collapsed (Brubaker 1997).
And of course history matters a lot in shaping the cultures that permeate the social relations and become especially important in the moments of crisis. Ethnic or regional cultures, however, are terribly slippery things to analyze. For example, the Chechen and Kabardin notorious propensity to symbolic posturing including bringing weapons to the public rallies obviously can make a difference. But who brings weapons to rallies? Certainly not women and hardly the bureaucrats, medical doctors, or middle-aged workers. It would be worth trying to disassemble the presumably unitary ethnic ‘cultures’ into the fields and combinations of habituses specified in terms of social class, gender, and other statuses – something along the lines of Bourdieu’s Distinction (1984). We might discover that cultures are not the systems of norms but very contentious arenas. The young sub-proletarian toughs who might bring guns to rallies or the romantic sub-intellectuals sporting papaha hats might be hailed as the true co-nationals, as it happened in K-B during the attempted mobilization of 1992, but under more normal circumstances they could be ridiculed: Where do you think you are, at a folk-dance competition? The situational attitude towards the young men and women who exhibit in their dress and behavior the special Islamic piety are even more contrasting and generally hostile because the new Islamists are widely regarded a sectarian minority.
History is neither the programming device nor the abode of national spirits. Least of all history should be reified into the unitary super-actors loosely called civilizations. History matters a lot but only through the identifiable social mechanisms that actualize historical memory in popular mobilizations and state ideologies; transport (and inevitably transform) cultural dispositions from one epoch to another; create the arenas of social action and the actors. To explain the symbolic challenges posed by the national papaha hats or the Islamic hijab headcovers we must look not in their historical origin but rather in the contemporary configurations of class structure and of the flows of power and goods. For that we must know the political economy that generates them.
1 William McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society Since A.D. 1000. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
2 See L.I. Astvatsaturyan, Oruzhie narodov Kavkaza Weapons of the Caucasus peoples. Nalchik: El-Fa, 1994.
3 Cited in Yakov Gordin, Kavkazskaya voina. ?
4 See L.I. Astvatsaturyan, Oruzhie narodov Kavkaza Weapons of the Caucasus peoples. Nalchik: El-Fa, 1994.
5 I thank Dr. Barasbi Bgazhnokov for sharing this story.
6 See Michael Khodarkovsky, Russia's Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500-1800. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.
7 See Emma Panesh, "Bifurkatsiya v protsesse sotsializatsii: na materialakh traditsionnogo vospitania adygov, XVIII – nachala XX v." Bifurcation in the Processes of Socialization: The Traditional Upbringing of the Adyghes in the 18th – early 20th centuries. Problemy arheologii i etnografii Severnogo Kavkaza. Krasnodar: Kubanskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 1988.
8 Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power. Vol 1: A History of Power from the Beginning to A.D. 1760. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
9 Due to the proximity of Middle Eastern markets and the huge price differentials, it was far more profitable to immediately sell the captives to the merchant intermediaries. Only the less desirable slaves stayed as the dependent members of their master's household. (Kurtynova-Derluguian, Tsar's Abolitionists.)
10 See Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism. London: Verso, 1974. The first Soviet scholar to draw analogies between the patterns of Daghestani democratic community and Greek polis was M. A. Aglarov, Selskaia obschina v Nagornom Daghestane, XVII – nachalo XIX vv. Rural Community in the Mountainous Daghestan in the 17th-early 19th centuries. Moscow: Nauka, 1988.
11 Max Weber, Economy and Society. 2 Vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978, pp. 1301-1372.
12 A detailed description is provided by M. A. Aglarov, Selskaia obschina v Nagornom Daghestane, XVII – nachalo XIX vv. Rural Community in the Mountainous Daghestan in the 17th-early 19th centuries. Moscow: Nauka, 1988.
13 Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Vol. I, Cambridge, 1986.
14 Karl August Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.
15 See Anna Zelkina, In Quest for God and Freedom: The Sufi Response to the Russian Advance in the North Caucasus. London: Hurst & Co., 2000.
16 But roughly a fifth of all Ossetians still became Muslim. Curiously, this causes no tension, and Muslims are found in the same family circles with the Christian Ossetians.
17 An excellent analysis of this divergence is provided by Artur Tsutsiyev, Osetino-ingushskii konflikt, 1992 - …: ego predystoria i factory razvitiya The Ossetino-Ingush Conflict, 1992 - …: Its Antecedents and Development Factors, Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1998.
18 Randall Collins, "Balkanization" or "Americanization": A Geopolitical Theory of Ethnic Change," in his collection Macrohistory, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
19 This fact is unambiguously demonstrated by the massive documentation collected by Nikolai I. Pokrovsky, Kavkazskaia voina i imamat Shamilya. The Caucasus War and Shamil's Imamate. Moscow: POSSPEN, 2000.
20 But see the chapters XI-D-1 and XII-C in William McNeill, The Rise of the West. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963 — disregarding the title 'Moslem Catalepsy'.
21 For an overview of Arabic texts from the Caucasus, see Moshe Gammer, Muslim Resistance to the Tsar: Shamil and the Conquest of Chechnia and Daghestan. London: F. Cass, 1994.
22 The colonization movement conducted by the armed and democratically organized North Caucasian peasants seems to present a parallel to the Ancient Greek colonization in the early phases of polis democratization. The parallel becomes stronger considering the growing involvement of wealthier Circassian and Chechen peasants in taking the control of commercial routes leading to external markets, although surely we must not forget the difference between the Mediterranean sea-borne geography and the mountainous landscape of the Caucasus. The parallels with the Viking raiding/trade/colonization appear even stronger. See Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism, 2nd. ed. London: Verso, 1994, pp. 29-50 and 154-181.
23 Once again, this dynamic finds potentially illuminating parallels in the inherent bellicosity of classical Mediterranean polis and the Scandinavian societies in the age of Vikings. See Perry Anderson, Op. Cit., pp. 45-50; and Randall Collins, "Market Dynamics as the Engine of Historical Change," in his: Macrohistory, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999, especially pp. 188-196. The prominent Soviet Ossetian historian Max Bliyev (Bliev) sought to theorize the warfare dynamics of the North Caucasian democratic tribes using Engels's concept of 'warrior democracy'. It was sharpened by Bliev's own concept of 'raiding society' where the regular raids for booty and slaves constitute a major political economic structure on the road to feudal class society, see Max Bliev and Vladimir Degoev, Kavkazskaia voina The Caucasus War, Moscow: "Roset", 1994. Bliev's work, dating back several decades ago but published in full only recently, was considered too provocative because it focused on the aspects of North Caucasian history that many Soviet scholars and party officials, both the North Caucasians and Russians, surely prefered not to notice. Unfortunately, Bliev's daring but rather crude brand of Marxism left him vulnerable to the accusations in both dogmatism and, much nastier, the Ossetian nationalism that traditionally took the Russian side against the rest of North Caucasian neighbors. The latter remains so emotional an issue that a leading Chechen intellectual once called me to warn that he would not be able to preserve our friendship if I cite Bliev's book again. I am truly sorry, but whatever our opinions, the 'rading society' thesis of Max Bliev cannot be simply erased from the historiography of the region.
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