Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The subjectivist theory of history

This is an excerpt from an excellent article on the Leipzig Bookfare premiere of the first German translation of Alexander Rabinowich's The Bolsheviks Come to Power, Die Sowjetmacht. Die Revolution der Bolschewiki 1917.
 

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Post-modernism and post-structuralism—a rejection of the science of history

The dominance of the Cold Warriors in the academic world of historical institutions and publishers was supplemented by the post-modernists, post-structuralists and constructivists and their philosophies. These ideologues opposed historical research committed to the excavation of historical truth, and did so all the more aggressively the more the opening of archives in Russia and Eastern Europe facilitated access to that truth.

For these elements, there is no objective truth, nor are there cause and effect relationships in history. In their view, even source documents fall into the category of purely subjective opinions— "intersubjective conventions," "narratives," "representations," etc.

Jörg Baberowski, professor of history at the Humboldt University of Berlin and representative of the subjectivist theory of history, ridicules historians like Rabinowitch who hurried to Moscow and Leningrad in 1990-1991. He has written that "for some of them, history could be illuminated—even today—all the more lucidly by the radiance of authenticity, the more that (new) sources came to light within the scientific community. They regarded sources as pieces of a mosaic that can be assembled into a whole picture, engendering the past for the people of today. Historians devoted to the reconstruction of past worlds justify their operations by drawing attention to the gaps that have to be filled. Following the opening of archives in the former Soviet Union, this line of argument has unfortunately become increasingly convincing… The Soviet Union as a huge construction site, on which historians bring the whole of history step by step back into the present—that is what historians dream of today. That is what motivates their hunt for ever more sources… The claim to show how the past actually was turns out to be an illusion. What the historian confronts in the sources is not the past… the past is a construction." *

The small but loaded word "unfortunately " which Baberovski slips into the methodological exposé reveals the motive and aim of the post-modernist and post-structuralist offensive: the old, virulently anti-communist conception of how to write the history of the October Revolution of 1917 was to continue its dominance in the universities, newspaper feature pages and book stores, even after the end of the Cold War.

Since the opening of the archives, the irrational and factually untenable nature of these notions can be exposed by a critical analysis and disclosure of the numerous documents previously held under lock and key. Precisely because of this, the post-modernists all the more resolutely attribute to those ideologically-based "narratives" and "representations of the past" the same legitimacy as the concepts and findings derived from a scrupulous, critical evaluation of historical documents.

According to the post-modernists and post-structuralists, the ideology-based concepts on the one hand and the documents and conclusions drawn from them on the other both provide merely subjective "representations" or "constructions of the past." Therefore, according to them, diligent document-based research and the excavation of historical truth are illusions, an entirely futile labour of love! This is the creed of post-modernism and similar theories. It is a rejection of scientific history in general.

Throwing down the gauntlet to the post-modernists

Mehring Publishers' publication of Alexander Rabinowitch's book aims to throws down the gauntlet to the theories and efforts of post-modernist lecturers and authors and their portrayal of the history of the Russian Revolution. Under conditions of a global crisis of capitalism and social counterrevolution in Europe, many people—particularly the young—are looking for a solution for the whole of humanity. As a result, there will be a growth of interest in history and the lessons of the October Revolution. Rabinowitch's work will greatly assist people in their study and understanding of this history "as it really was."

* Baberowski, Jörg: Geschichte Ist Immer Gegenwart (History is Always Present), Stuttgart, Munich 2001, pp. 10-11

 

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