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Nationality Policy in the 1930s

"Gorbachev Factor"

The onset of Stalin’s revolution “from above” from the late 1920s onward signified a major turning point in the nationality policy from pragmatism and flexibility toward stringency and repression. 


In particular, Stalin’s forced collectivization of agriculture in the early 1930s caused great upheaval and suffering both among Russian and non-Russian rural populations. The collectivization was probably the greatest disaster in Kazakh history and was accompanied by the enforcement of a settled way of life on the nomadic people and the destruction of traditional clan structures. The nomads resisted as much as they could by taking up arms, killing their cattle, or fleeing across the border into neighboring China. In the Ukraine, the administrative collectivization and the forcible requisitioning of crops in 1932-34 resulted in the famine that caused the deaths of several million people.  

Stalin’s radical policies were accompanied by purges among republican elites to curb any nationalist tendencies and “deviations.” They soon escalated into an all-encompassing wave of terror that peaked in 1936-38. It dealt a crushing blow to the administrative elites in the republics. All members of the Ukrainian Politburo, for example, perished in the purge. The terror affected the elites of all nationalities, but its consequences in the union republics were particularly severe as it undermined many of the achievements of indigenization. Stalin’s policies and the methods used to enforce them to a great extent put a chill on the process of nation building that had begun in the 1920s.

As a result of the Stalin revolution, many of the ideological imperatives of the Soviet nationality policy were transformed. In the 1920s the party leadership had sought to eradicate all vestiges of the imperial mentality of Russians, derided as “Great Russian chauvinism.” Now the emphasis was reversed, and “local nationalism” was perceived a much bigger threat. The calls for international solidarity of proletarians were replaced by the new integrating ideology of Soviet patriotism and by the leader’s cult.

Both patriotism and the deification of the leader had, of course, deep roots in the prerevolutionary past. The officially sponsored patriotism had a certain base of support among the Russian population and, in particular, among the burgeoning numbers of Russian industrial workers and engineers. Many of them had come from rural communities and had achieved their new status and qualifications thanks to the policies of the Communist regime. As a result of industrialization and rising educational attainments, the new Russian nationalist movement began to take shape under the control of the central authorities. Consequently, Soviet patriotism had a distinctive Russian flavor.

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Soviet Nationalities


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