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Making sense of Russian and Soviet history has never been easy. Often, scholars' understanding of the Soviet system and Soviet society has been influenced by the political climate. During the Cold War, for example, when the Soviet Union was generally viewed as a fomenter of revolutionary challenges to the "Free World" and as a rival locked in a great contest with the United States and its allies for the fate of the globe, many scholars chose themes that they believed would enhance the "Free World's" understanding of top-level Soviet decision-making.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

The Cold War also led scholars to pose other questions. Because the overwhelming majority of scholars did not sympathize with the outcome of Russian political developments, they wondered whether Stalin, or indeed Lenin, were really historically inevitable. Many undertook a search for the moment of "original sin." Was it the legacy of serfdom and autocracy, the world war, an accident of poor leadership among alternative contenders for power, the strategic balance of social forces in favor of the Bolsheviks, that party's greater organizational strengths, or other factors that allowed Lenin to come to power in October 1917? Even those few who were in sympathy with the stated ideals of the Bolsheviks wondered whether Lenin's rule inevitably paved the way for Stalin's. For cold warriors and disappointed socialists alike, historical scholarship became a full-scale search for a usable political past. For scholars, the hope of finding in the Soviet past the potential for alternative political and economic development in the future beckoned like a pot of gold. Whoever could assure us that the Lenins, Stalins, Khrushchëvs, and Brezhnevs would not go on forever would bask in the glory and gratitude of the people of the "Free World."[1]

The radicalism of the 1960s changed the image of the Soviet Union,


academics' relationship to the Free World establishment's agenda, and consequently the nature of the questions historians asked. Whereas the previous generation had trained its sights on political elites, self-proclaimed "revisionists" began to focus on subaltern groups—workers and peasants. In some cases, they attempted to rehabilitate the "legitimacy" of the Soviet regime by demonstrating mass, especially "working-class," support for it at various times, as if workers' support could in and of itself validate the actions and policies of the regime and demonstrate the essential "socialist," and hence redeeming, nature of the Soviet system as an alternative to capitalism.[2] On this I speak from the inside, because as a graduate student I counted myself one of those new social historians.[3]

In the last decade the wheel has turned again. After Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, it became difficult if not preposterous to believe that the USSR was in any sense a "revolutionary," let alone progressive, society. More willing now to discount Marxism as a central explanatory element of Soviet regime behavior and social relations and to appreciate powerful similarities between tsarism and Soviet realities, many began to reexamine whether October 1917 constituted such a radical historical break.[4]

The meltdown of Communist regimes in the USSR and Eastern Europe has sent historians and other scholars scurrying to rummage through the past in search of usable seeds from which a new social, economic, and political order might grow (or be grown) in those countries. Particularly in vogue are attempts to find pockets of "civil society" and a democratic resistance to tyranny against the dreary backdrop of seeming conformity and terror. We naively believe that if such hardy seeds could be identified and appropriately nurtured they would eventually outcompete the politically and economically dysfunctional conformist and bureaucratic "weed" vegetation, turning those societies into blooming, democratic, and free-market gardens.

As in the past, some are now eager to map a new social model—"civil society"—onto Russian realities, driven more by political hopes than by a deep knowledge of culture. Consequently, of prepossessing interest lately has been the novelty of public protest, independent and unsupervised cultural communities, and the recent flourishing of nongovernmental public interest organizations, advocacy groups, and political parties.[5] Understandably, the particular prominence of environmental protests during perestroika has also drawn scholarly attention to that phenomenon as just such a germ of "civil society."[6]

Setting aside such exceptional events as the crowd of 20,000 Jews at the Moscow Synagogue who greeted Golda Meir on Rosh Hashanah, 1948,[7] the GULAG revolts of 1953–1954, the Novocherkassk riots of 1962, the Tbilisi student demonstrations of the 1950s and 1970s, the Crimean Tatar protests of 1968, and the Estonian students' demonstration of 1980, environmental protests during perestroika were the first mass-scale public demonstrations of


citizen disaffection in the Soviet Union in recent decades. Protests then expanded up to and including political strikes by organized workers. It was comforting to believe that the suffocating dictatorship of the Communist Party needed only to be removed for Soviet citizens "naturally" to claim their democratic rights in a civil society.

Realities, however, are not so simple. In a major corrective to those who would see in every act of protest or resistance the germ of "civil society," Sheila Fitzpatrick's study of the collective farm peasantry reminds us that people are embedded in social and cultural matrixes that defy easy categorization. They can oppose particular aspects of the system yet assent to others. They can participate in the system out of all kinds of motives—idealism, cynicism, fear, or the pursuit of self-interest—and often a combination of the above. This book attempts to understand environmental activism under Stalin and his successors as just such a complex set of responses by scientists, students, and writers to Soviet conditions. Activists were not do-or-die resisters of the system, on the one hand, nor inoffensive do-gooders, on the other. Rather, they were groups of individuals who used relatively open discursive space to try to carve out independent social and professional identities as best they could within a system that prescribed official models of behavior, ethics, norms, and identity for all.

The activists' single-minded focus on the protection of "pristine" nature by means of the defense and expansion of the network of zapovedniki effectively trapped them in a realm of speech concerned with sacred space. It trapped them as well in a delusionary division of nature into "sick" and "healthy," freezing them in a framework of analysis that treated the abstraction "biocenosis" as if it were a real object of nature. They effectively shut themselves off from the more mundane environmental concerns of nonprofessional, ordinary Soviet people as well. To be an active agent in the creation of "civil society" would have meant crossing those discursive and class lines, something the older movement was unable to do. To that extent, it is unlikely that this movement in and of itself could serve as a model for a fullblooded "civil society" based on a deep acceptance of pluralism and a renunciation of elitist claims to leadership.

On the other hand, the activists' story is a message of hope, for it tells us that even in the darkest gloom of a terror-ridden society it is possible for individuals to find a way to come together to protect and affirm values and visions radically at odds with those of the rulers. That is the great achievement of scientific public opinion, which for many decades was the only relatively autonomous public opinion in the Soviet Union.

The scientific high intelligentsia tradition in nature protection monopolized the field for many decades. Involvement of a broader public, beginning with other scientists such as in Akademgorodok/Novosibirsk, the


literary intelligentsia, and the press only began during the mid-1960s, particularly in connection with the threats to Lake Baikal. Even then, leadership rested with the naturalists, who were viewed as most able to advance expert arguments, speaking with the authority of science.

In the non-Russian republics, especially the Baltics, participation in nature protection embraced broader layers of the population. Two factors contributed to this: first, the Germanic traditions in education, which included highly value-laden attitudes toward the local landscape, and second, the correct perception that industrialization was accompanied by a continuing influx of nonindigenous Slavic migrants—Russians and Ukrainians—whom the Estonians and Latvians saw as swamping their small ethnoses. Nature protection was a benign-sounding argument for keeping factories—and their "foreign" workers—out. That movement, however, largely falls outside the Russian emphasis of this book.

What is common to many of these cases is that nature protection served as a surrogate for politics, as actual political discourse was prohibited and punished. What gave the conservation movement its unique quality was that it was perceived by the regime as a curious trifle, a collection of socially marginal "fool" scientists (chudaki ) who were not worth the effort of monitoring, detailing, and repressing. By default, the nature protection movement became the only vehicle to express deep feelings of civic concern. For those who breathed the spirit of obshchestvennost'in either its scientific or its civic permutation—environmental activism provided the feeling (and sometimes the fact) that they were tangibly and independently defending the good of the community in the face of a repressive, wasteful, and destructive bureaucratic system.

Inescapably, the presence of sites of civic autonomy like the naturalist societies and VOOP invites us to reexamine our larger understanding of Soviet politics. Was this a unique social phenomenon or will similar movements be uncovered? Have we overestimated the Stalinist regime's abilities to police society or, conversely, underestimated its cleverness in managing potential dissent? We have no definitive answers to the riddle of the regime's failure to snuff out nature protection activism. If we use Fehér, Heller, and Márkus's analysis as a point of departure, perhaps the regime was unable to develop a completely coherent understanding of what constituted real threats to its survival or, conversely, real essentials.[8] Or perhaps the regime thought that it was so strong that it could indulge the survival of one remaining source of social opposition. However, given the regime's history of persecution of even the individual dissent of poets, why should it let thousands of VOOP members continue to meet? Are we looking at a gaping hole of inefficiency in a system of power that had pretensions to total control? Did the regime take nature protection speech at face value and fail to un-


derstand the system-related implications of such speech, thereby betraying a shocking dullness, even stupidity? And what about the failure to police "liberal" underlings such as the Russian Republic leadership or that of the USSR Academy of Sciences? How did that integrate into Stalin's ultimate vision of political control? Could such power to give space be effectively limited by Stalin? Was it a failure of political reach? Or do we need to make alterations in our understanding of Stalin's system? I hope the present work has opened up these questions.

Though not comparative, this study adds to the growing literature on the different national experiences of professionalization, civic activism, and nature protection.[9] Those familiar with the history of the United States will see striking parallels between the Russian scientist activists and Progressive-era conservationists such as Gifford Pinchot or later ecologists such as Victor Shelford, Charles C. Adams, W. C. Allee, and a host of others, who believed that there was one best way to use the environment and that science was the sole institution that could identify that way. In the United States those claims were ultimately rejected or at least severely challenged by business and by voters, whereas in the Soviet Union they were rejected by the ruling Party. Yet, Russian scientists never irrevocably lost hope that enlightened (or just teachable) leaders could come to power in the Party, and consequently hung onto their technocratic claims longer than their American colleagues, perhaps because the lure of access to the Leviathan-state was so powerful, particularly as that Leviathan-state showed no signs of disappearing anytime soon.

Clearly, the case of the Soviet field biologists demonstrates one of the most determined and dogged efforts chronicled anywhere to preserve a traditional professional identity and esprit de corps in the face of adverse and dangerous conditions. Although only one case study, it does point to the hold of such older identities among professionals and to the possibility, even under Stalin's terroristic regime, of reaffirming them.[10]

Yet, even as this study confirms this, it underscores the need to examine each group of professionals on a case-by-case basis. Certainly not all scientists shared the same construal of nauka . Unlike field biologists, chemists in the Soviet period and even before became far less attached to basic research ("pure science") as a sacred task. This was understandable. Unlike the field biologists, chemists were valued actors in the push to industrialize the USSR. Consequently, as Nathan Brooks has shown, when the previously independent chemical societies were abolished in 1930–1932 and were replaced by a heavily politically controlled organization under Stalin loyalist A. N. Bakh, chemists were able to trade new lives for old and still feel that


they came out ahead; the regime had only recently chartered a "Committee for the Chemization of the Economy" in 1928 and declared chemistry's centrality in the Five-Year Plan. Chemists, Brooks informs us, "enthusiastically threw themselves and their institutes into the task of rapid industrialization."[11]

Just as the relative independent-mindedness of the field biologists was conditioned by their marginal place in the political economy and their desire to study life forms in undisturbed nature with no obligation to generate practical benefits flowing from their research, the political conformity of Soviet chemists, with some few exceptions (N. N. Semënov comes to mind), was heavily determined by their importance in the eyes of the regime and their consequent higher status, and by their vastly greater dependence on that regime for the outfitting of their research facilities, a situation that virtually commanded good behavior. On balance, the promise of status, funding, and research opportunities more than compensated for the loss of professional autonomy, especially in its political dimensions, and of the "pure science" ideal. For field biologists, there really were no attractive new lives to trade for old, and so they defended their old professional identities with astonishing persistence. Curiously, that defense of their identity also became an important component of their professional identity, showing that even as professionals struggled to hang on to prerevolutionary identities, those identities nevertheless evolved. With time, it even became impossible to maintain or reproduce the older model of professional identity, owing to profound changes in education, the workplace, patronage, and science itself.

One noticeable difference between the histories of the nature protection movements of the United States and the Soviet Union is that in the Soviet Union nature protection was used to stake out an independent sphere where activists, whether students, scientists, or writers, could engage in self-initiated civic activity. Through that, they sustained professional and social identities that were also self-generated, in tacit opposition to the behavioral and professional norms set by the Party-state. True, in American history from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir to Earth First! there have been those whose feelings of cultural alienation from what they experienced as an oppressively materialist society led them to fashion socially dissenting identities around nature protection. With the possible exception of African-Americans, other people of color, and gays and lesbians, however, Americans never faced the barriers to the expression of a public social identity that Soviets did, which gives Soviet nature protection a completely different cast.

Moreover, until recently the preeminent social meanings of nature protection in American society have centered around preserving space for leisure, most notably for the middle class. Of the wide spectrum of protected territories in the United States, those enjoying comparable cultural importance to the Russian zapovedniki are the national parks. The original impetus


for U.S. national parks was to preserve "the spectacular scenery of mountains, chasms, and geological freaks,"[12] or what Alfred Runte, historian of the national parks, called "monumentalism." From their outset, parks in the United States were designed for the delectation of the tourist and for the cultural reassurance of elites. With respect to biota, "the ideal animal was large and stood around in groups in the open—posing nobly in the middle distance against a background of mountain peaks—or entertained tourists with its 'cute' antics," wryly observes Thomas Dunlap. "No one thought of the parks as preserves for all species in a balance dictated by natural forces."[13] Indeed, so great was the emphasis on "display fauna" that broad campaigns of extermination were conducted in the parks to rid them of predators, "varmints," and other pesky life forms that might disrupt the safety or experience of the pleasure-seekers.[14]

If the foundations for "parks" as idealized nature were laid in late eighteenth-century England and Scotland, America brought this idea to its resounding realization. As Karen and Ken Olwig put it, the "baptism in the wilderness" of the "roaming cowboy with his six-shooter and guitar . . . was thought to have created the prototypical free American individual," and it was this "primeval" wilderness that the parks were thought to preserve.[15]

This perception of national parks as "virgin" nature, shared by scientists and laypeople alike, was a self-imposed cultural delusion based on the denial of the land's prior occupancy and transformation by Indians. This irony was noted by the Olwigs, who write:

The Indians themselves were refused permission to remain in the area and the first Yellowstone tourists reportedly risked having the tranquillity of their sightseeing destroyed by army units clearing the area of Indians. Today, the tourists are no longer disturbed in their reverie of what is predominantly perceived as the "wilderness nature" of Yellowstone, and thus it is easier to maintain the illusion. The Park Service, however, finds it increasingly necessary to preserve the "natural" beauty of the landscape formed by centuries of Indian land use through controlled burning and other methods.[16]

Although American tourists and ecologists/preservationists have different conceptions of the appropriate use of national parks, they are united in seeing them as "national museums of our American wilderness," in the words of Stephen Mather.[17] Although American preservationism has frequently been an elite cultural crusade against Babbitry and rampant materialism (including middle-class tourism), whereas automobile-based tourism in the national parks has celebrated the arrival of tourists into the comfortable and materialist middle class—making the national parks into contrastive and contested symbols—both camps unite in viewing the parks as that "pristine" wilderness in which the nation was forged.

The symbolic importance to Russians of protected territories stands in


stark contrast. In Russia the Stalinist Party-state was the principal adversary, and for educated citizens, especially the scientific intelligentsia, protected territories took on the aura of a geography of hope, an archipelago of freedom. Like Americans, Soviet nature protection advocates cherished delusions about protected territories: that they encompassed pristine, self-regulating, ecological communities that existed in a healthy equilibrium until the appearance of humanity. However, in the USSR, the stakes were considerably higher; unlike Soviet activists, few Americans risked their lives to assert a symbolic vision of national parks, nor were American environmentalists defending one of the last remaining islands of social autonomy in their country. As the Olwigs conclude: "One society's (or one class's) natural paradise may well be another's weed-overgrown garden; one's wilderness, another's home; one's Manifest Destiny, another's oppression. . . . Parks are no better or worse than the society which produces them."[18] Not just parks, I would add, but nature protection movements as social phenomena.

Nature protection does not exist as a disembodied eternal ideal. Indeed, it can only be understood as a cultural institution functioning in very specific contexts of space, time, and political economy, reflecting ever-changing and constantly contested visions and myths. This should not be read as throwing cold water over the attempts of many both here and abroad to save our planet's dwindling heritage of diversity. Rather, it is a call for those of us who defend that heritage to do so with as much self-awareness as we can muster. I hope that this book contributes to that goal.

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