CHAPTER 15 THE NATIONALITY POLICY IN THE USSR

The analysis of the nationality policy of the Bolshevik leaders by the investigators of reconstruction era defined two approaches of the solution of national question – Leninism and Stalinism. Considering the resolutions of the II Party Congress of the Soviets and different declarations on the national problems of 1917, they concluded that the Soviet nationality policy accepted the “Leninist principles” of national self-determination but practised the “Stalinist” theory of “autonomization”, which became one of the structural basis for the formation of the USSR. Stalin opposed Lenin’s stand in favour of national self-determination, argueing that the freedom of self-determination should be given only to the labouring classes. He was against referendums and nations’ will to separation, subordinating the national interests to that of the proletarian. He refused to accept the principle of federalism, suggesting his variant of autonomy. Both federalism and national territorial autonomy were written in the first Soviet constitution and exercised in the USSR, though, as the historian L. Khurshutian writes, that the republics were independent only formally, in fact being only autonomous, and the autonomy in its turn was formal.2

The Bolshevik leaders were secure in their faith that “national differences and antagonism between peoples are vanishing gradually from day to day” and that the “supremacy of proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster”. The Bolshevik theorists opposed to political solutions of promoting ethnic identity and to the principle of “extraterritorial national and cultural autonomy” (each nationality represented in parliament no matter where its members lived). Leninists preferred “regional autonomy” in which political units would not have ethnic designations. The proletarian solution to the nationality question would preserve the unitary state, allowing local self-governing and guaranteeing complete cultural and linguistic freedom within the unitary state. Lenin’s self-determination meant that nationality could choose to become fully independent, but according to his other formulations they wouldn’t have the right to an autonomous political territory or to a federative relationship to the centre. But the Bolshevik previous theories did not survive the revolution intact. The Soviet state was both federative (though theoretically) and based on ethnic political structures. Inspite of “vanishing”, the Soviet state gave birth to new nations. As Ronald Suny noted, “Rather than a melting pot, the Soviet Union became the incubator of nations.”

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