Reviews

Like its two predecessors of 1997 and 2004, volume three of Unknown Pages of the Fatherland’s Oriental Studies presents and analyses previously unpublished material on the history of Russia’s Oriental Studies, and challenges the self-celebratory accounts of the Soviet period. While the latter concentrated on the history of institutions, the editors of these post-Soviet volumes, renowned scholars from the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of Russia, put the focus on the fate of individual scholars, as well as on the relationship between the ‘old’, ‘bourgeois’ and academic school of Russian Oriental Studies in St. Petersburg and the ‘new’, Marxist Oriental Studies that developed after 1917 mainly in Moscow.

One figurehead of the ‘bourgeois’, philological school of Russian Oriental Studies in the twentieth century was the famous specialist of Arabic studies Ignatii Iu. Krachkovskii (1883-1951), who figures prominently in several contributions to the volume. In 1936 Krachkovskii commissioned the young Arabist G. G. Gul’bin to compile a Bio-Bibliographical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Arabists. The first part of this hitherto unpublished encyclopaedia (letters A-L, 157 entries) is edited here by Natal’ia G. Romanova, and accompanied by a biographical essay on Gul’bin by S. A. Frantsuzov (pp. 477-644). Gul’bin’s work was based on notes and papers of Krachkovskii himself, and for the edition most data and references were checked and clarified. To be sure, Gul’bin’s dictionary of Russian Arabists is very uneven and far from being complete; oftentimes its information is imprecise and vague, especially in entries of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (where also many Muslim scholars of the Russian Empire are included). Still, the manuscript is a valuable addition to the existing reference works (like Sofiia D. Miliband’s Bio-bibliograficheskii slovar’ otechestvennykh vostokovedov, third ed. 2008). Beyond its practical value, the new edition is an interesting historical document of Krachkovskii’s attempt to reconstruct the history of Russia’s Arabic Studies (culminating later in his well-known Survey on the History of Russian Arabic Studies of 1950). Gul’bin himself was sentenced to five years of labour camp in a political process in 1930, released in 1935 to be newly arrested in September 1941; most probably he perished soon after on an overcrowded cargo boat that was to bring convicts from besieged Leningrad to Siberia. Thus Gul’bin’s dictionary also testifies to the painful conditions under which classical Oriental Studies developed in Stalin’s USSR.

The volume also contains Krachkovskii’s correspondence with his old friend and peer, the renowned Sinologist Vasilii M. Alekseev (1881- 1951), prepared for publication and provided with commentaries by Anna A. Dolinina (pp. 139-433). In her introduction, Dolinina describes the two professors as veritable ‘knights of science’ and as devote and idealistic searchers for the historical truth. Dolinina emphasises their courageous attempts to save the Academy of Sciences, and their own disciples, from the onslaught of the Communists. The correspondences indeed give some insight into the day-to-day problems Krachkovskii and Alekseev faced at the Asiatic Museum/Institute of Oriental Studies in Petrograd/Leningrad, with bitter remarks about ignorant administrators and senseless restructurings; here the very impulsive Alekseev and the rather stiff Krachkovskii make an interesting contrast. As to Alekseev, a smear campaign against him in the Institute (following the publication of his La littérature chinoise in France in 1937) are also the subject of a contribution by A. N. Khokhlov (“Akademik-kitaist V. M. Alekseev pod ugrozoi ostrakizma v 1938 g. [Academician Sinologist V. M. Alekseev under Threat of Ostracism in 1938]”, accompanied by Alekseev’s letters, in his defence, to the Academy of Sciences, pp. 431-474). Alekseev was denounced by his colleagues as a reactionary ‘pseudo-scholar’ who is too arrogant to work on useful projects. His disciples had by that time been persecuted as ‘enemies of the people’ (461). It seems that Alekseev ‘survived’ this episode due to the support of biologist V. L. Komarov, then President of the Academy of Sciences.

Next to these voluminous accounts on the main heroes of the academic Leningrad school, the ‘new’ school of Marxist Oriental Studies is analysed only in a single contribution, Aleksandr O. Tamazishvili’s analysis of the career of Vladimir Gurko-Kriazhin (1887-1931): “Vladimir Aleksandrovich Gurko-Kriazhin: Sud’ba boitsa ‘vostokovednogo fronta’ [Vladimir Aleksandrovich Gurko-Kriazhin: The Destiny of a Struggler on the ‘Fron t of Oriental Studies’]”, 32-135). Gurko-Kriazhin had started as an amateur writer on Eastern topics in 1914, as a romantic admirer of the spiritual and mystic authority of the Orient and as a naïve believer in its liberation from colonial domination; still, his attack on Eurocentrism in Western and Russian political and historical writings on the Orient, including on the well-known philologists of the Leningrad school, foreshadow some of the critique of ‘Orientalism’ formulated later by writers such as Anouar Abdel-Malek and Edward Said. As Tamazishvili shows, in 1920 Gurko-Kriazhin failed in his attempt to set up an own Oriental teaching and information office in Tbilisi; but then he became a driving force (and probably the chief administrator) of the All-Russian/All-Soviet Scientific Association of Orientalists, the Marxist organisation set up in Moscow in 1921 by the Party Orientalist Mikhail Pavlovich to coordinate Oriental Studies in all of the Soviet Union. While he never joined the Communist Party, Gurko-Kriazhin served the Soviet Union wholeheartedly as an organiser, analyst and teacher, and his output of books and articles on revolutionary movements in the Orient is impressive. He did not spare with criticisms towards the Leningrad scholars; yet interestingly, he did not reproach them for sticking to their out-dated philological work (like many other Marxists did) but on the contrary reprimanded classical scholars (like Vl. M. Alekseev) when they were trying to touch upon contemporary issues ― an interesting observation for our understanding of the relationship between new and old Orientology. Starting in 1927 (the year his mentor M. P. Pavlovich died), Gurko-Kriazhin found himself vilified and attacked by representatives of a radical leftist trend in Marxist Oriental studies (whom Tamazishvili links to a movement of proletarian literature, Napostovstvo), and subsequently lost all his teaching and research positions. In 1930, Gurko-Kriazhin was finally himself denounced as a ‘bourgeois’ writer, and a year later he died of disease and exhaustion. By drawing upon material from private and state archives Tamazishvili throws a new and sympathetic light on this enthusiastic publicist who had a great share in the establishment of Marxist Oriental studies in the Soviet Union, but who had the bad luck of first standing in the shadow of Pavlovich, and of then being erased from the pantheon of Soviet sciences by the Cultural Revolution.

The final section of the volume (pp. 647-704) is devoted to Oriental imagery in the poetry of Aleksandr Volkov (1886-1957) from Tashkent, who is above all known as a painter. To conclude, the book is an important contribution to various aspects of the history of Russian/Soviet Oriental studies, well-organised and diligently edited. It also contains precious photographs of the main characters. It can only be hoped that the series will be continued.

Michael Kemper, University of Amsterdam
CER: II-1.2.A-29