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Scapegoating One's Comrades in the USSR, 1934-1937

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This article examines two cases of scapegoating—that of Ludwig Magyar in December 1934, and that of Gevork Alikhanov in June 1937—and applies theories of group identity and behavior to explore what motivated people to scapegoat their comrades, why the groups selected particular people for scapegoating, and what these incidences reveal about the groups that engaged in this ritual. Within political groups, such behaviors are obviously inseparable from the politics of the moment. The cases examined here illustrate some key political shifts in Stalinist party policy between late 1934 and mid-1937, as manifest in a single party organization. The changes affected its members' behavior, which offers insights into intra-party fractures. The essay confines its focus to two meetings of the party organization of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI). Whereas in December 1934 the members of the party organization unanimously voted to expel Magyar from their ranks, in June 1937 rank-and-file members of the organization re-directed efforts by the party organization's leaders to scapegoat Alikhanov and attacked the party organization's leaders. Examining how this group of Stalinists behaved allows one to view scapegoating as both a Stalinist and universal social behavior. Appreciating the prominence of universal social behavior within a Stalinist political context is essential to moving beyond many scholars' unwarranted obsession with Soviet and Stalinist exceptionalism.


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