Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 2 (2012), 3 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Mark Edele


Alen Bljum / Martina Mespule: Bjurokratičeskaja anarchija. Statistika i vlast pri Staline. [Bürokratische Anarchie. Statistik und Macht unter Stalin]. Moskva: Ross­pėn; Fond Pervogo Prezidenta Rossii B. N. Elcina, 2008. 327 S. = Istorija stalinizma. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1011-5.

Alain Blum’s and Martine Mespoulet’s study of the Central Statistical Administration, its personnel, work, and relationship to the political leadership as well as other entities within the Soviet administrative apparatus provides a very strong argument for social historians intent at using Soviet population statistics: their quality, the study demonstrates, was rather high despite political pressure and repeated purging of the statisticians. Historians who see such statistics merely as discursive formations which shaped rather than represented social reality misunderstand the way they were produced and underestimate the institutional tenacity of professional statistics.

The Administration was originally organised by some of the most accomplished statisticians of pre-Revolutionary vintage, who had learned their craft, often as political exiles, working for local government (zemstva) all over the empire. Their self-understanding was that of scientists who would serve progressive governments by providing as accurate and impartial information as possible to allow rational decision making. This ethos not only survived the Revolution together with these men, but it was reproduced within the Central Statistical Administration all the way up to World War II, which forms the end point of this investigation. The increasing replacement ofbourgeois specialists” with newly trainedred cadres” of working class or peasant background had only a minor impact in this respect: the newly minted statisticians partook in the same professional culture as their predecessors. Even the Great Purges, which famously victimised statisticians involved in the 1937 census, could not extinguish this professionalism.

The 1939 census, indeed, could have been expected to be falsified through and through, given what had happened to the authors of its predecessor. Instead, rather than inventing numbers or falsifying statistics to cater to the wishes of the leadership (which were, indeed, not so clear) statisticians, with considerable nervousness, tallied up the actual results. They did drop the question about religion, which had caused such disquiet in 1937 by showing that the war against religion was far from won, and they formulated the question about whether or not an individual was able to read or write in such a way that more people would be classified as literate than in the shocking 1937 result. But within the parameters of suchmassaging” of the questionnaire, the census was conducted as an actual social investigation. As a result, much of the data collected in 1939 (and then archived), confirms the damning numbers of 1937.

The manipulation started once the numbers had been collected. Three tactics were used to make the 1939 census more palatable to Stalin and his entourage:redistribution” of numbers, censorship, and interpretation. The first tactic was the only one, which actually misrepresented the results of the census, but only with respect to the regional distribution of the population, not to the overall totals. The centrally collected numbers of army personnel and GULAG inmates were divided up into batches and allocated to those regions in particular, which had suffered most from the famine of 19321933. The second tacticcensorshipmeant to only report part of the numbers to avoid a bad impression. This was most obviously used in the partial and sparse publication of statistics, but was also a well-established practice in internal documentation. Finally, statisticians reported to Stalin that they were unable to actually account for each and every individual, estimating the share ofunreported” citizens to bring the final number closer to the number Stalin had announced a priori.

There were two main reasons why statisticians continued to function as professionals, despite the danger of reporting the actual state of affairs in Stalin’s Soviet Union. For one, professional statistics in general and the Statistical Administration in particular had their own internal histories, which were older than the polity in which they were embedded.Partially autonomous forms of organisational and professional logic continued to exist” (p. 145) and linked not only the Tsarist past with the Bolshevik present, but also Leninism and Stalinism. As a result, attempts at categorising and counting the population did not follow one logic: statisticians, policemen, and ethnographers had different goals, used different methods, and their results communicated poorly with each other. Censuses did not follow a policing logic and passport classifications did not depend on census information. The detailed numbers of former kulaks and otheranti-soviet elements,” for example, listed as to be arrested or shot in each region in the now infamous order No. 000447 of 30 July 1937 were NKVD produced numbers, not census data collected by the statisticians.

But institutional self-referentiality and historical tenacity were not the only reason why statisticians continued to orient themselves professionally rather than politically. Even had they tried to cater to the wishes of the political leadership, they could have only been confused in the process, as the attitudes of Stalin and his team to statistics were schizophrenic in themselves. Indeed, their approach to data encapsulated in more pronounced form a contradiction at the heart of the use of statistics in modern administration. On the one hand, politicians want accurate information in order to make rational decisions. This desire was even stronger in the case of a leadership, which wanted to run a centralised economy, the functioning of which was quite obviously dependent on good statistics. On the other hand, politicians want statistics to show that their policies are working. Negative numbers are thus never welcome. This second tendency was exacerbated in a country where the leadership claimed infallibility while promulgating policies, which were nothing less than catastrophic. As a result, statisticians were to report accurate numbers without reporting the actual state of affairsa very Soviet demand, indeed.

Mark Edele, Crawley, Australia

Zitierweise: Mark Edele über: Alen Bljum / Martina Mespule: Bjurokratičeskaja anarchija. Statistika i vlast’ pri Staline. Moskva: Rosspėn; Fond Pervogo Prezidenta Rossii B. N. El’cina, 2008. 327 S. = Istorija stalinizma. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1011-5, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Edele_Blum_Bjurokraticeskaja_Anarchija.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

© 2012 by Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg and Mark Edele. All rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact redaktion@ios-regensburg.de

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