THE STAGE APPROACH IN EXPLAINING HISTORY
The Marxist theory of five main stages governed by certain laws dominated Soviet historiography. This theory suggested well-balanced stages in the development of mankind from savages of ancient times to the modem and future society: (1) the primitive communal system; (2) the slave-holding system; (3) feudalism; (4) capitalism; and (5) communism. Communism in turn consists of two phases: (1) socialism and (2) communism.
The primitive communal system and the second phase of communism were supposedly the «classless» societies. The slave-holding system, feudalism, and capitalism were identified as the societies in which exploiter classes (slaveowners, feudal lords, and the bourgeoisie) dominated. Socialism as a first phase of communism was considered a transition period from class-based societies to the classless society. Proletarian dictatorships (such as the dictatorships of Lenin and Stalin) were thus «warranted» in this stage so the proletariat could fulfill its historical mission of putting an end to class-based societies divided into exploiters and exploited.
During the Soviet period, all history books and textbooks in the Soviet Union, including those for Kyrgyzstan, had to be written within the framework of this theory. Interestingly, there was no evidence of a slaveowning system in the history of the Slavonic, Turkic, and Mongolian peoples; as a result, Soviet Leninists put forward a new theory that some nations could skip a level, passing to the next regular stage (e.g., they could move from the primitive communal system directly to feudalism, bypassing the slaveowning system, and from feudalism directly to socialism, bypassing capitalism). This theory was crucial to and obligatory for Soviet historiography and was developed to encourage Eastern nations while they were being absorbed by the communist political regime.
According to the last official edition of Isloriia Kirgizskoi SSR (The History of the Kyrgyz SSR), «only the Marxist-Leninist understanding of history will bring the possibilities to genuine scientific and comprehensive investigation of the historical process in the universal connection of its economic, social, national, and cultural factors» (Ploskih 1984, 7). Nowadays, the Kyrgyz Republic stands out from the other post-Soviet Central Asian countries because of its more democratic transformation and real lack of censorship. It therefore has become a field of action for the different post-Soviet ideological streams. There is the political party of the Kyrgyzstan communists, which continues to consider Marxist-Leninist theory as the only true one and has several supporters among modem Kyrgyz historians. However, other political and non-political, creative organizations are challenging them. One of these is the Kyrgyzstan Historians Society (KHS), formerly the Association of the Kyrgyzstan Young Historians, established 3 June 1989 as an anti-communist organization and officially registered only after the collapse of the Soviet Union on 17 July 1992 by the Kyrgyzstan Justice Ministry. The society changed its name on 5 November 1995 and includes prominent representatives of the old generation of historians who consider their main purpose to be the reconsideration of all of the Bolsheviks’ ideological cliches in historical science. The revision of Bolshevik historical theory’s quintessence is taking place in the research of the other historians and philosophers who are not connected with the KHS.
Thus, the authors of the collective monograph Istoriia Kyrgyzstana s drevneishih vremen do kontsa XIX veka (Kyrgyzstan’s History from Ancient Times to the End of the 19th Century), which was published within the framework of the Soros Kyrgyzstan Foundation program, wrote: «In due course, the line of arguments of the Marxist historians has been tattered by the pressure of facts and historical occurrences. The three ‘whales’—historical necessity as an expression of objective laws of mankind’s development; the determining role of existence toward mind; and the role of property as an essential political and economic category of the historical process—on which the Marxist-Leninist understanding of history was based are disappearing into the past» (Chotonov 1995, 4; Koichuev and Brudnyi 1993, 43).
Nevertheless, it is true that Kyrgyzstan’s historians (including the KHS «revisionists») who reject the Marxist-Leninist theory of the staged development of mankind toward the teleological future of communist society do not deny the usefulness of periodizing human society’s history according to social and economic systems that really exist. They have focused on primitive communal society, the slaveowning system, feudalism, capitalism, and socialism. In contrast to the Soviet cliches, which held that slaveowning states existed in the ancient Central Asian oases, contemporary Kyrgyz historians suggest that the society of the ancient state of Parkana (Dawan in ancient Chinese sources) in the Ferghana Valley was not a slaveowning society but, rather, an early semi-feudal class-based system in which slave work simply supplemented the labor of free community members (Koichuev 1998, 32; Tchorotegin and Omurbekov 1997, 81). The transitional society of today is conceptualized differently by the Kyrgyz historians as a capitalist, non-socialist one, who describe it as «a third way of development (apart from the capitalist and socialist ones)» (Koichuev 1998, 9).
Some traces of the staged approach to explaining history remain almost in every serious monograph produced by Kyrgyzstan’s post-Soviet historians. Still, some academic historians severely criticize the specifics of Marxism’s approach to explaining history through social formations. However, they also say that «not all Marxist principles are obsolete; some of them continue to ring true and remain methodologically justified» (Koichuev 1998, 8)—for instance, the so-called principle of historicism, which involves seeking historical facts without any conjecture. Of course, this principle existed long before Marxism ever appeared. The clear majority of these historians, in any case, have stopped copying the old-fashioned, stereotypical pattern of the five regular stages of mankind’s development in the way that was compulsory only a decade ago.