Nationality's Role in Social Liberation---The Soviet Legacy

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Nationality's Role in Social Liberation---The Soviet Legacy

Post by Coach on Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:32 am

Nationality’s Role in Social Liberation: the Soviet Legacy
by John Riddell on July 21, 2011

Just under a century ago, the newly founded Soviet republic embarked on the world’s first concerted attempt to unite diverse nations in a federation that acknowledged the right to self-determination and encouraged the development of national culture, consciousness, and governmental structures. Previous major national-democratic revolutions – in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States – had been made in the name of a hegemonic nation and had assimilated, marginalized, or crushed rival nationalities. The early Soviet regime, by contrast, sought to encourage, rather than deny, internal national distinctiveness.

This process was thrown into reverse gear during the Stalin era. Nevertheless, national self-assertion grew, ultimately becoming a major factor in the Soviet Union’s collapse. Today, an array of sovereign states and autonomous republics stand as the Russian revolution’s most prominent legacy to the new century.

The early Soviet experience grasped well the vitality of national feeling in the social movements of the last century and has useful lessons for us today.

Soviet nationalities policy

The collapse of the Soviet Union, coming together with the opening of many Soviet archives, has encouraged important new scholarship, including book-length studies in English by Ron Suny, Terry Martin, and Jeremy Smith (see references, below). These works provide a clear picture of nationalities policy in the first ten years of the Soviet republic. Let us summarize:

* Among most minority peoples in Russia, at the time of the 1917 revolution, nationalism was not well developed. Nation-building took place chiefly in the Soviet era.

* Soviet power was structured through a federation, territorially divided to enable minority peoples to have their own governments. Control of economic and military matters, however, was delegated to the central government.

* This federative process extended to nations in formation and to peoples among whom a sense of nationality had previously been rare.

* The Soviet government encouraged a struggle against national oppression both outside and within its borders, even though the struggle for equality necessarily struck against privileges of the Russian people who had initially taken the lead in the 1917 revolution. In Central Asia and the North Caucasus, the anti-colonial struggle included reclaiming some of the land recently seized by Russian settlers.

* The Soviets committed substantial resources to the encouragement of minority national culture, including through the creation of alphabets and a standard for written national languages, and education and publishing in minority languages.

* The new Soviet order encompassed traditional custom, law, and local leadership of Asian minority peoples, including, for example, through defense of the nomadic mode of life and the integration of the Islamic Sharia into the Soviet legal system. [July 22: Pierre Rousset's comment is correct in noting that use of customary Sharia law was restricted to areas where it did not conflict with Soviet legislation, including on women's rights.]

* Minority nationals received preference in access to higher education and job openings in both factories and public administration.

* The use of languages other than Russian was promoted in administration and higher education.

* National territories were extended downwards from the republic level to townships and villages, so that each republic was in fact a mosaic of differentiated national sub-units.

* Assimilation to the Russian majority, even voluntary, was resisted, by insisting that the education of all minority nationals take place in the language of their people.

* National administrations had responsibilities for regarding their nationals elsewhere in the Soviet republic, especially with regard to education. For the Jewish people, who had no national republic of their own, an all-union administration was created.

These programs, applied in the first decade of the revolution, suffered from many limitations and inadequacies. They had little impact in economic administration and the military. Their scope was restricted by the appalling poverty of Soviet society. They faced significant opposition both from many Russian nationals and within the Communist Party and its leadership. In the Soviet East, they were limited by the low educational level of the minority populations, whose literacy rates, in Central Asia, were between 2% and 7%. (Martin 2001, p. 127)


John Riddell continues with responses to four commentators on the above essay here:

"The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat."
--Trotsky, Transitional Program (1938)

“Anti-capitalism doesn’t do the victims of capitalism any good if you don’t actually destroy capitalism.”
(‘The Historical Failure of Anarchism)

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Re: Nationality's Role in Social Liberation---The Soviet Legacy

Post by Isakenaz on Tue Aug 02, 2011 5:59 am

Excellant article, recomended reading. Good find comrade Very Happy

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Re: Nationality's Role in Social Liberation---The Soviet Legacy

Post by Admin on Wed Aug 03, 2011 10:03 am

Superb article that elucidates a number of obscure (perhaps intentionally marginalized) aspects of Soviet history. Unfortunately, such a historical precedent would likely still fail to make much of an impression with most of the contemporary left — as the many objectionable aspects of Sovietism alienate them to such an irrational extent that they are incapable of appreciating the positive aspects thereof.

Of course, these facts—known to many of us here—could potentially be used to persuade some contemporary Marxist-Leninists, etc. to reconsider the bourgeois cosmopolitan values they have unwittingly embraced. Perhaps if they come to understand that said values have practically usurped the cause socialist internationalism throughout much of the West, they will come to appreciate (or at least tolerate) the growth of left-wing nationalism within the revolutionary socialist movement.

This could also, albeit to a far lesser extent, persuade a few reactionary nationalists — many of whom embrace bourgeois principles, simply because they have a severely flawed (often conspiratorial) conception of Marxism and most manifestations of socialism — to reconsider their respective positions on socialism.

De Omnibus Dubitandum

"The slave frees himself when, of all the relations of private property, he abolishes only the relation of slavery and thereby becomes a proletarian; the proletarian can free himself only by abolishing private property in general."
-Friedrich Engels Hammer Sickle

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