Thaw in Archaeology
Archaeology in the USSR. By A. L Mongait. (Penguin Books, 5s.)
HERE was little ideological interference with archaeology in Russia for the first decade after the revolution. All this changed with the first five-year plan, when many archaeologists were arrested. By 1935 Soviet archaeology was entirely Marxist; it was mainly concerned with the first three of the five systems which were alleged to have existed in history (the primitive social, slave-holding, feudal, capitalist and socialist) and the periodisation of history into these stages. Morgan's Ancient Society (1877), Marx and Engels's The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884)—particularly this last, which the translator of the present book calls the 'basic textbook for prehistoric archae- ology in the Soviet Union'—were elaborated into five stages: the primitive herd (Lower Palaeolithic), the primitive community (Upper Palaeolithic), matriarchal clan society (Neolithic), patriarchal clan society (Bronze Age) and the period of the break-up of tribal society (Iron Age).
Since Stalin's death Soviet archaeology, like other aspects of Russian thought, has returned to Leninism and is now for the greater part as objective as much of Western archaeology. The period 1928-50 must be thought of as a phase rather like the archaeological and anthropologi- cal excesses of the Nazi Germanenforschung. Many scholars in the West have not realised the swing away from the early Marxist excesses, partly due to the inability of most of us to read Russian fluently or at all, and partly because good summaries of Russian archaeology in the post-1950 period have not been readily available in any language. At a plenary session of the Institute for Material Culture at Tartu in 1951, our author, in a lecture entitled 'The Crisis in Bourgeois Archaeology,' denounced leading Western archaeologists, in Britain specifically Fox, Hawkes, Atkinson, Wheeler and the present reviewer. 'Bourgeois archaeology,' he declared, 'is distinguished by extreme idealism. Contemporary bourgeois archaeologists serve the political aims of their governments.'
Our crime was part methodological and part our ignorance of Russian archaeology. We begged for general surveys to educate us. They have now arrived. In 1954 Artsikhovsky pub- lished his The Foundations of Archteology—a textbook for use in Russian universities and teaching colleges. In 1955 Mongait wrote his Archaeology in the USSR, translated into English by the Foreign Languages Publishing House in Moscow in 1959; now Penguin Books add to the long list of fine services they have rendered to scholarship and archeology by publishing this book in a revised edition, together with a help- ful and stimulating foreword by the translator, M. W. Thompson.
It appears to me, who cannot read Russian, to be well translated, though I resent the slightly defensive intrusions which the translator makes in the text, such as 'as has been the case in the west as well,' this of course is a pivotal
tenet of classical Marxism, and, as though we were all children, 'Wine and wine amphora, were one of the most important imports from
the classical world.' But the foreword gives a clear and fair summary of the development of Russian archaeology. It should be read in con-
junction with Mikhail Miller's Archceology the USSR (1956) and the symposium edited b C. E. Black, Rewriting Russian History . Soot, interpretations of Russia's Past (1957). Mongait found both these unsympathetic; I hope he titSP Thompson's foreword sympathetic, as I do. Mongait's book will be essential reading f°1 all archaeologists and historians. It is indispse! able; indeed it is the only book available at tbi moment in English covering the ground--frog the Lower Palaeolithic to the mediaeval cities' There are few traces of the old bitterness to this book and some of the offensive/defen0, mechanism is the result of the translation, whicil has left the book full of Stalinist phrases—boOr, geois historians, bourgeois sociologists, bourgeon' archaeologists and bourgeois historiography. This is what Mongait wrote, but it is to teresting, amusing and heartening that when,11e revised the Penguin translation he suggested 'foreign' for `bourgeois.' Non-Sovier or 'n Communist' might have been the better trap tion, and it is sad that the editors went b to the out-moded 'bourgeois.' There are prisingly few intrusions of the Marxist mode prehistory, but they do occur and stick out a sore Stalinist thumb, as, for example (p. 1 `the change to stock-breeding as the basis the economy destroyed the equal rights of ne and women and gave control to the men, Yid that a patriarchal society was established,' (pp. 152-3), 'slavery developed in the Iron One of the sources of the accumulation of vdli ables and the growth of property inequali was the developing trade of the Iron Age. possibility of enrichment by exploitation gge rise to war with the aim of robbery and en slavement.' There is one really frightening passage whiCli must be quoted in extenso. 'When . . . we spell' of the superiority of Soviet archaeology, we b in mind not separate achievements or success (of which there are not a few among work.• in bourgeois countries) but that real superior' of method of our work, based on Mar% philosophy, which ensures the most objective L covering of the historical past' (p. 74). Oh deft Is this a slip or is it that just for a moment Leninist mask is removed and we are back L°,, the days of the first five-year plan? Here is tii` 1951 Mongait of Tartu stalking again; has ht forgotten what he wrote in his special preface , to the Penguin edition: 'Archaeology ought ty serve to bring different peoples closer together; it is based on the recogniti3n of the unity of laws of development of society, it demonstrate' the cultural unity of mankind and deals wit' ancient civilisations of which contempor:10 peoples are the heir'? The Penguin preface is full of fine word', Let us follow them up; it is our job to persua(1'. Soviet archaeologists that archaeology is really ternational and that we are all heirs to w011`, prehistory and the ancient civilisations of !I'll' world. There are many gateways through w'111,.c, the traveller to the past may go, but when In' has passed through with his donkeys loaded 111$,, with picks and shovels, cameras and care, indexes, proton-magnetometers and C-14 sample boxes, he should have left behind him the cold, war labels on the gates and be a citizen of the world. Our warmest thanks to Dr. Mongait for having given us a readable summary of what is nationally today the Russian part of out common heritage. Let us all see that in tech: nique and interpretation, as in friendship and personal contact, archaeology is, as he says, 'one of the most international of sciences' 5