Indigenous-led colonisation? Igor Stas, ‘An Indigenous Anthropocene: Subsistence Colonization and Ecological Imperialism in the Soviet Arctic in the 1920s and Early 1930s’, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, 2022


Abstract: This article examines the role of Indigenous practices in the development of the Soviet Arctic in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1920s the Committee of the North and the State Planning Committee (Gosplan) believed that the development of the natural resources of the far north was feasible only with the help of the Indigenous population. They saw Indigenous peoples who were able to benefit from the north, despite its harsh environmental conditions, as guides for Soviet technocrats. Ethnographers and researchers of the north formed a discourse concerning the subsistence (promyslovaia) colonization of the Arctic, which would involve the rationalization of traditional economic sectors, such as reindeer herding, fishing, and hunting. During the Great Break of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Committee of the North planned an extensive expansion of subsistence colonization to the undeveloped territories of the far north. Its attitude united with the practices of ecological imperialism when agriculture began to be introduced into northern territories. Traditional economic activities became part of industrial agriculture. The construction of state farms (sovkhozy) oriented toward reindeer herding and hunting aimed to implement this ecological imperialism. However, subsistence colonization suffered a crushing defeat during a reorganization of the Arctic economy in the mid-1930s. Indigenous peoples of the north and their traditional economic activities became superfluous in the development paradigm pursued by Soviet technocrats.

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