Eltsov P. Culture, ethnogenesis, and Gulag. Рец.: Клейн Л.С. Трудно быть Клейном: Автобиография в монологах и диалогах. — СПб.: Нестор-История, 2010. // The Review of Archaeology, 29: 70 – 75, 2010
Трудно быть Клейном: Автобиография в монологах и диалогах. ISBN 978-5-98187-368-3
There is no need to introduce Professor Leo Klein to the Anglophone audience. His writings on theory and practice of archaeology have attracted the attention of the anthropological community for many decades. Professor Klein’s most recent publication is a breathtaking autobiography whose title translates to “It is Tough to Be Klein”. The title sets the theme, reminding us vividly of what a challenge it was to be an educated man of free spirit in a totalitarian country. Yet this book is not just an autobiography; compiled of dialogues, monologues, letters, excerpts from other publications, archival documents, and even his own poems, it recreates the drama of academic life in Soviet Russia in rich detail.
Born into a Jewish family in Belarus to parents who were both distinguished doctors, Klein was brought up as a Russian; he maintains that he identified as a Jew only when facing persecution from authorities. During World War Two he was evacuated to Yoshkar-Ola, the Finno-Ugric capital of Mari El, a republic located in the eastern part of the Eastern European Plain along the Volga River. It was in Yoshkar Ola that Klein had his first encounter with the KGB as he expressed curiosity about the techniques of Soviet propaganda to portray the entire German nation (rather than just the Nazis) as enemies. Klein wonders how he managed to avoid being sent to a Gulag right then and there.
After finishing high school Klein went straight to war, to the 3rd Belorussian Front. It was “the reality of war” that, in his own words, “restructured his interests so he could revive his passion for humanities,” particularly for history and philology. It was his interest in the origin of Slavic and Indo-European languages that then led him to archaeology. Like every student in the Soviet Union, he had to read Lenin, yet the questions he posed were both critical and far-reaching: Why was Soviet intelligentsia defined as “a stratum sandwiched between the peasantry and the working class” (Russ: prosloika) and not as a self-sufficient social group? Who really owned the land? How was it possible to have a political system with one party, when the word ‘party’ comes from Latin ‘pars’ which means ‘part’? What was the social status of the Soviet bureaucracy: was it a “machine of oppression” according to its own definition of the state? When Klein’s father discovered his son’s notes, he burned all of the volumes of Lenin that they had in the house.
In the second part, Klein reflects on his undergraduate years in Leningrad University, then on his time as a bibliographer at the Library of the Academy of Sciences and as a history teacher in secondary school (1947-1957). The renowned Russian philologist Vladimir Propp gave Klein the first push; he characterized Klein’s term paper, “The Bear in Folklore, Language, and Ritual,” as an outstanding work of scholarship. Many years later Klein would call Propp his major influence and role model. Despite Propp’s support, however, it was many years before Klein enrolled as a full-time student at the Department of History: Klein maintains that he stood against a wall of corruption, anti-Semitism, and stringent Stalinist ideology.
When he finally was accepted, Klein further pursued his interest in the origin of ethnolinguistic groups and developed a long-term interest in the Catacomb Culture. In a term paper written for a course taught by the archaeologist Mikhail Artamonov, Klein attempted to formulate a new theory of ‘ethnogenetics’ different from the then-fashionable theory of ethnogenesis. When the dean of the History Department, the historian of Kievan Rus Vladimir Mavrodin, read Klein’s abstracts, he uttered, “I cannot say whether what you have written is correct but I am sure that you will die not from a disease.” One must remember that this was happening at the time when Marrism, a linguistic theory that rejected the notion of genetic affiliation between languages and emphasized the authochtonous origins of ethno-linguistic groups, was still in fashion. Klein did not favor Marr’s ideas and, in his fourth year, wrote a paper arguing that Marr’s linguistic theory was in disagreement with Marxism. At a meeting held on March 3, 1950, this paper was critiqued by B.B. Piotrovsky, V.V. Mavrodin, A.P. Okladnikov and A.N. Bernshtam. As Klein recalls, one participant in the meeting concluded: “Congratulations, young man! With this presentation, you closed the door of graduate studies for yourself.” Klein was saved by a combination of tenacity and luck. Threatened with expulsion from the Komsomol and the University, he sent his paper directly to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Stunningly, his paper ended up on Stalin’s desk just after Stalin had made up his mind to disavow Marr. Klein survived.
The third section describes the years during and after Klein/ash's work on his doctoral dissertation. After four fruitless attempts to enroll in graduate school, Klein succeeded in 1957 after Mikhail Artamonov, then the director of the Hermitage Museum, personally invited him; this time, academic favoritism worked for Klein rather than against him. Klein/ash's dissertation focused on the origins of the Catacomb Culture, a theme that required much theorizing on migration and ethnogenesis. Klein argued that Catacombs came from Europe, not from the Caucasus as his teacher Artamonov had believed (115).
Soon after his defense, Klein became involved in a project reminiscent of the treasure hunts of old. Directed by the archaeologist S.I. Kaposhina, Klein excavated a kurgan filled with golden objects belonging to Sarmatian nobility. This occurred near Novocherkassk during the infamous events of 1962, when local workers protested inflation and were brutally oppressed by the army and KGB; the leaders of the uprising were brought before secretive courts, quickly tried, and executed. As soon as Kaposhina found out about the discovery, she ordered Klein to leave; according to Klein, she was eager to appropriate the publication rights and not to share publicity with a junior scholar. When Klein categorically refused, Kaposhina used the old Stalin-era method of accusing him of anti-Soviet behavior. Klein had to face the KGB. Luckily, the KGB was too busy with /ash'real’ anti-Soviet activities in Novocherkassk to take note of Kaposhina/ash's report. The treasures safely arrived at the Hermitage and became known as the Novocherkassk or Sadovy Kurgan trove, later dated to the end of the first century AD.
Two key research issues occupied Klein at that time: the Normanist theory and the origin of the Indo-Aryans. Both issues reflected the passion Soviet scholars had for all issues relating to ethnogenesis. Regarding the origin of the state in Kievan Rus, Klein accepted an unfashionable and politically dangerous Normanist view, i.e., the theory that Scandinavian military elites played a crucial role in the political consolidation of Slavic tribes in Kiev and Novgorod. These years saw a period of relative de-Stalinization, and Klein was able to discuss these issues in his seminar in Leningrad University, and even to organize a public debate presenting both sides of the argument. In search of the archaeological identity of the Indo-Aryans, Klein followed the method of direct correlation of archaeological cultures with ethno-linguistic groups and argued that the Catacomb culture (again, the object of his doctoral dissertation) had been created by the ancestors of the Indo-Aryans.
The fourth section deals with a number of themes both personal and scientific. Klein’s knowledge of languages and keen interest in academic life beyond the USSR led to numerous publications in the west, an activity controlled and often discouraged by the communist party and KGB. The director of the Hermitage, B.B. Piotrovsky, warned Klein on several occasions: /ash#dblquoteYou are publishing too much abroad. They will put you in jail.” Someone apparently even submitted a report to the communist authorities accusing Klein of having too many publications (99). In 1970 Klein made his first and only trip abroad prior to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He went to East Germany, where intellectual and scientific life was controlled even more severely than in the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev. There appeared to be no real scientific discourse, as there had to be one correct interpretation approved by authorities. Klein recalls that Irmgard Sellnow, the head of ethnographic and prehistoric studies in East Berlin, told him, /ash#dblquoteIf there is uncertainty in interpretation, we call the Central Committee of the Communist Party, receive an explanation, and then formulate the final interpretation. This allows us to avoid an unnecessary waste of time and efforts.../ash#dblquote (176). Klein, on the contrary, was becoming increasingly interested in theory and interpretative diversity. His /ash#dblquoteArkheologisheskie istochniki,” /ash#dblquoteA Panorama of Theoretical Archaeology,” and /ash#dblquoteWas ist eine archäologische Kultur/ash#dblquote all appeared in the 1970s. Many more works were written during that period but were published significantly later.
Around the same time Klein came to believe that archaeology needed its own theoretical basis independent from both history and anthropology. Unsurprisingly, he faced significant opposition from the authorities; archaeology was perceived in the Soviet Union as an auxiliary branch of history. Klein often used Machiavellian skills to publish: he sent a paper on Gustav Kossina, /ash#dblquoteKossina im Abstand von vierzig Jahren,” to an East German publisher when he realized that as a Soviet author he was permitted to critique Kossina in Germany but not in Russia (236). Klein/ash's research on Kossina appears related to his attempts to build a coherent theory of migrations, first expressed in his paper /ash#dblquoteArkheologicheskie priznaki migratsii/ash#dblquote (Klein 1973). When New Archaeology emerged in the United States, Klein/ash's reaction was critical. Its direct correlation of material culture with society and optimistic hope of reconstructing the past through archaeological data reminded Klein, he says, of the early years of Soviet archaeology (257).
In the fifth section Klein continues to relate theoretical developments to his personal life. Stories about his taste in music and active participation in university life are introduced along with his epistemological concepts. Klein now argues that not only archaeology but also prehistory should be defined as an independent discipline with its own methodology. In other words, neither the Russian conception of archaeology as a sub-discipline of history nor the Anglo-American affiliation of archaeology with anthropology satisfy him. Particularly interesting in this respect is his recounting of his debate with B.B. Piotrovsky and his correspondence with Bruce Trigger, both of whom believed that archaeology or at least a significant component of it is historical.
Klein also admits here that he is influenced by his Marxist upbringing, particularly by materialist dialectics. References to /ash#dblquotefree will/ash#dblquote and the neglect of socioeconomic determinism are, in his view, ludicrous. Even if an archaeology free of politics and ideology is impossible, it should exist as an ideal pursued by scholars (308).
The sixth part is devoted to the most turbulent time in Klein/ash's life. In 1981, he was arrested on the charge of homosexuality, a crime punishable in the Soviet Union by up to eight years in jail. Today it is clear that Klein was the victim of a political campaign targeting Leningrad intellectuals who did not meet the criteria of /ash'good Soviet scholars/ash'. Klein published extensively in foreign journals often without the proper approval of academic elites and the KGB. Moreover, he questioned many postulates of Marxist-Leninist doctrines. The result was an absurd and humiliating trial and almost two years in the gulag. Stunningly, Klein not only survived Soviet jail (a true challenge considering the charges) but also used this time to his benefits. His observations, lectures, and, later, publications about the barbaric relations between inmates in Soviet labor camps laid the foundation for ethnographic studies of Gulag in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union. After his release from jail Klein found himself unemployed and deprived of his academic titles. His correspondences with foreign and Russian colleagues (Bruce Trigger, Vincent Mero, Sabina Eger, A.I. Pershitz), reproduced verbatim, shed much light on this dark period, which despite his unemployment and ostracism was incredibly productive.
It was not until Gorbachev/ash's perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet empire that Klein would return to normal academic life. He began lecturing in the West and returned to Saint Petersburg University. His intellectual interests broadened considerably during this time. He wrote provocative and rigorous works about Homer, arguing that the Iliad was formed on the basis of several epic poems that originally described the sieges of different cities which only later became Troy. Emphasizing the debatable character of this theory, the renowned historian Igor Diakonoff nonetheless praised Klein’s method and line of argument. Klein’s inclusion of Diakonoff/ash'/ash's letters and reviews makes this part of his book particularly tantalizing. Another of Klein’s major undertakings in the 1990s was a trilogy on homosexuality, a theme that was utterly taboo in Soviet Russia. This was followed by a revival of his earlier interest in the study of the ancient Slavs, a subject dominated in the Soviet Union by B. Rybakov, the doyen of Soviet archaeology at the time, who Klein says played a role in his arrest and imprisonment. Klein argued that much of Rybakov/ash's reconstruction of Slavic paganism was baseless and that the only well documented Slavic god was Perun (449-453).
In the eighth and final section Klein reflects on the state of post-Soviet archaeology and the ethical aspects of archaeological practice. His prognoses are pessimistic. Poor funding, growing religiosity and nationalist agendas prevent, in his view, a successful development of archaeological science in the former USSR. Hotly debated issues of politics and ethics in archaeology are treated by Klein in a traditionally positivist manner. He is opposed to the politicization of archaeology and denies the right of individual groups or nationalities to own the past: /ash#dblquoteThe past belongs to all humankind/ash#dblquote (591). He bluntly states that, /ash#dblquoteas a researcher,/ash#dblquote he /ash#dblquoteis absolutely indifferent to what natives think about/ash#dblquote his /ash#dblquoteconcept of their culture”: /ash#dblquoteLet it sound rude,/ash#dblquote he adds, /ash#dblquotebut it is exactly the same with an ichthyologist who does not care about what fish think about his or her ichthyologic concept.” Klein does not see this approach as an expression of arrogant Eurocentrism. /ash#dblquoteA European sociologist,/ash#dblquote he argues, /ash#dblquoteshould have the same approach to his or her studied compatriots/ash#dblquote (613). In a similar manner he rejects the core assumptions of feminist archaeology: /ash#dblquoteIt would be silly to divide archaeology according to gender (which gender? - that of students, ancient burials?) into feminist archaeology, male archaeology (or male-chauvinist?), children archaeology, homosexual archaeology.../ash#dblquote (591). Postprocessual archaeology gets the same treatment: /ash#dblquoteMyths are myths, that is fiction formed in accordance with certain laws/ash#dblquote (614-615). It comes as no surprise that Klein does not favor the writings of C. Levi-Strauss.
Needless to say, it is difficult to critique Professor Klein/ash's ideas as they are so densely assembled in this remarkable volume. Leaving aside details of his personal life – a life which stands as an example of intellectual dignity and heroism and which should be an object of research on its own – one is tempted to make several comments on his theoretical stance.
The key concept of archaeology, the notion of archaeological culture, is treated by Klein as an objective entity indicative of socio-economic and ethno-linguistic phenomena. Today, many archaeologists in Europe and the US consider direct identifications between archaeological cultures, ethnic groups, and languages as scientifically dubious. Unsurprisingly, Klein does not cite Franz Boas yet relies heavily on the works of Gustav Kossina; in identifying the Catacomb culture as ancestral to the Indo-Aryans, Klein follows Kossina/ash's method. In a similar manner, the emphatically positivistic approach to the study of the past prevents Klein from taking ancient mentalities into account. One does not need to be an ardent postmodernist or categorical relativist to recognize the importance of looking at the historical conscience of studied peoples. Fernand Braudel, who cannot be accused of being either a relativist or a subjectivist, has demonstrated with elegance how important the ancient modes of thought can be. In this respect, Klein’s statement that /ash#dblquotemyths are myths, that is, fiction/ash#dblquote appears at the least misleading. Do the concepts of the state, chiefdom, tribe, culture or for that matter the Marxist notion of sociopolitical formation always reflect objective historical phenomena or are they at least partially subjective? Using the concept of the state, the philosopher Ernst Cassirer has brilliantly shown the mythological and heavily politicized aspects of our scholarly vocabulary (Cassirer 1946). It is unfortunate that Klein discards philosophy as a non-science /ash#dblquotepoorly differentiated from religion/ash#dblquote (565); Cassirer, for instance, backed his conclusions with empirical data, as he was trained both in philosophy and anthropology. More recently, the historian Reinhart Koselleck has demonstrated, again, the conceptual fluidity of humanistic Begriffsgeschichte (Koselleck 1972).
It seems almost trivial to assert that the mentality of the other is an intrinsic part of his or her culture. In a similar way, the mentalities of ancient people form an intrinsic part of the events and phenomena of the past. As R. G. Collingwood has argued, the object of historical study is not /ash#dblquotethe mere event, but the thought expressed in it/ash#dblquote (Collingwood 1946: 214). A good example given by Collingwood is the murder of Caesar, which should be understood through the thoughts of Brutus at the moment of stabbing. One may agree or disagree with Collingwood’s vision of history, but it seems absurd to deny that the mentality of the other presents a valuable source for analysis: what ancient people thought about history and about themselves is not just an alternative view but a constituent element of their culture which must also be understood, described, and analyzed. Epistemologically we are destined to remain in transition, swinging between the data, the modes of our own thought, and the mentality of the other.
Klein/ash's main theoretical endeavor is also open to criticism. His lifelong crusade to define archaeology as a /ash'prikladnaia istochnikovedcheskaia disciplina/ash', an applied discipline focused on sources, seems more in line with old-fashioned antiquarianism rather than with the development of our discipline in the contemporary world. Depending on the intellectual background of its practitioners, archaeology can be seen as anthropology, history, art history, classics, area studies, or as an independent discipline. Both the Russian conception of archaeology as an auxiliary discipline of history and the Anglo-American view of archaeology as anthropology are legitimate, as they reflect local roots and intellectual traditions. Why not leave archaeology alone, letting it remain a fluid and interdisciplinary identity? In this respect, an old yet momentous distinction between /ash#dblquotearchaeology per se/ash#dblquote and /ash#dblquotearchaeology as interpretation/ash#dblquote proposed by W.W. Taylor still holds true. Klein/ash's vision of archaeology does not extend much beyond Taylor/ash's /ash#dblquotearchaeology per se/ash#dblquote defined as /ash#dblquotean excavation technique/ash#dblquote or /ash#dblquotea method... for the gathering of cultural information/ash#dblquote (Taylor 1948: 44). /ash#dblquoteArchaeology as interpretation,” according to Klein, should have a specific definition and set of goals and must not be confused with history, anthropology, or any other discipline. Archaeology, Klein concludes, is a self-sufficient and independent discipline.
Drawing rigid boundaries between humanistic and social sciences appears, at least, unproductive. Archaeology, anthropology, philology, art history, history, and linguistics are closely interrelated. The relation between these disciplines is contingent upon changing topics and methodologies, not on strictly defined disciplinary boundaries. It often happens that the most exciting and challenging research issues involve the efforts of several disciplines or even generate new ones. For instance, that Mircea Eliade had interdisciplinary training and ignored the narrowly defined disciplinary boundaries allowed him to create a new direction in religious studies. In a similar way, Indo-European studies arose from an interaction between linguistics, philology and archaeology.
Finally, Klein/ash's stance on the politics of archaeology might be a bit naive. He spills much ink about the political controversy surrounding the golden treasures discovered by Heinrich Schliemann and expropriated by the Soviet troops at the end of World War II, joining those politicians and scholars who believe that the treasure should be returned to Germany. His argument is emotional and convincing. Therefore it is particularly unclear how he envisions archaeology devoid of politics, even as an ideal. The idea of owning the past by all humankind is as utopian as the idea of world revolution. The state of Israel claims its legitimacy largely owing to the data that comes from archaeology. The destruction of Babri Masjid in India was at least partially inspired by archaeologists. American textbooks on ancient Indian history became the subject of a lawsuit in a Californian court. There are many other examples that demonstrate unequivocally that archaeology was, is and, will be a heavily politicized discipline (Kohl and Fawcett 1995; Kohl, Kozelsky, and Ben-Yehuda 2007). One must agree with Klein that as scholars we should try to avoid directly interfering into politics. However, as his own life in science shows, this is often impossible.
In summary, Klein has produced a debatable and remarkable book. His personal recollections of the inner workings of Soviet academia are fascinating. Of particular interest are his reminiscences of his peers, friends, opponents, and enemies, e.g. of M.I. Artamonov, D.A. Avdusin, G.M. Bongard-Levin, P.I. Boriskovsky, V. Bykov, I.Ia. Froianov, L.N. Gumilev, A.Ia. Gurevich, S.I. Kaposhina, V.M. Masson, V.V. Mavrodin, B.B. Piotrovsky, V.Ia. Propp, S.I. Rudenko, and B.A. Rybakov. Some are portrayed with anger, others with respect. Understandably, Klein can spare few kind words about the last czar of Soviet archaeology Boris Rybakov, a personage whom he believes to be responsible not only for dubious theories but also for his imprisonment and public ostracism. The portrait of A.D. Stoliar, the long-time chair of the Department of Archaeology at Leningrad University, is little more flattering. Portraits of other scholars are more neutral. The philologist Propp and the archaeologist Artamonov are remembered by Klein with great respect as they played a crucial role in his intellectual growth.
Klein ends his book with a poem in the style of Horace and Pushkin as a kind of monument to himself:
To the tradition of creators I paid a vain tribute,
And erected a monument to myself as they all do.
I sculpted it from my thoughts and sufferings,
And so it is eternal, and so it is great.
My death will be too early, regardless of when I croak.
Is it not absurd that life is offensively short?
My immortality – even to think about it – is a moot point,
But any rascal will live in the coming centuries!
Yet in each century, for each successor
I will resurrect, and will sound loud,
Will live in my every engraved, resounding phrase,
And in every one of my ideas. And that is excellent!
Yet I would give them all up, if just once
I could appear in the flesh and gab for myself (622).*
* The translation of the poem is mine, edited by Marisa Mandabach.