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The ‘Moscow centre’1 and its peripheries: an ideological overview of the Soviet Union’s difficulties as a multinational state2
Emanuel Copilaş Teaching Assistant, Politics Department West University Timişoara, Romania
Abstract Taking into account the ideological responses the Soviet Union offered, in its different phases of existence, to the national question, this study aims to offer a diachronical perspective of Moscow’s efforts in order to create a ‘Soviet people’. Kenneth Jowitt’s concept, ‘the Moscow centre’, applies to the whole socialist camp, both the USSR and to the rest of the communist states loyal to Moscow; however, in the present paper, I have carried out a risky enterprise, and limited it only to the territory of the former USSR, more exactly, to the relation between Moscow and the nationalities and/or ethnies of the Soviet Union, most of them dispersed trough the remote regions of the country and only a part of them having their own federative republic. Recognizing the imperilous potential which the nationalities might have with reference to the Soviet Union as a state, the communists tried both ideologically and politically, to ‘forge’ a Soviet supranational identity able to overcame this thorny problem. Officially, the Russians also must have
The syntagm was borrowed from Jowitt: 1992, p. 159 This paper was initially presented at the 2008 edition of the ‘Ideologies, values and political behaviors in Central and Eastern Europe’ conference, which took place between 5 and 6 of December at the West University of Timișoara. Its previous title was Cohesion or destabilization? Controversial aspects regarding the influence of the Russian Federation on its ‘near abroad’, where I also took into account the national problems of the former Soviet Union. Finally, I decided to concentrate on the Soviet Union exclusively. The research needed to conceive this paper was partially facilitated by an AMPOSDRU grant which I received from Babeș Bolyai University for the whole duration of my doctoral studies.
Political Science Forum renounced their national identity in favor of the Soviet melting pot; in practice, however, the non-Russians were always oppressed by the dominant nationality, although this fact was not ideologically and constitutionally visible. This was one of the main causes which, in combination with others, led to the undermining and finally to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Key words: ideology, nationalism, national tensions, centrifugal tendencies
Since its official founding in March 1922 and, until its rather unexpected implosion which took place in December 1991, the Soviet Union was undoubtedly the world’s largest multinational state. A census from 1959 ‘listed as many as 109 different ethnic groups, 22 of which numbered more than 900,000 members each.’ (Bilinsky: 1967, p. 16). The strong affirmation of the ethnic appartenance in that particular census could be interpreted as a consequence of Khrushchev’s destalinization processes, which surely amplified the desire of the ethnic groups to delimitate themselves from the Soviet imposed identity and also, as much as possible, from the Russian oppression which most of them endured since the XIX-th century or even earlier.
Regardless of the successive metamorphosis the Soviet national policy experimented over the decades, its ideological aim remained basically unchanged: to integrate and, sooner or later, assimilate the minorities, in the process of forging a new identity, which in the Brezhnev era became familiar as the ‘Soviet people’ concept (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 77). The next pages will be focused on the successive ideological approaches with the help of which Lenin and its followers tried to solve, or at least to contain the national problem of the Soviet Union, giving it an official façade.
Political Science Forum ‘National in form, socialist in content’: the Leninist approach
After the demise of the Tsarist Empire and the February 1917 seizure of power, the Kerensky government witnessed an impressive, one could say explosive development of the national conscience among the peoples within the boundaries of the former empire. National councils were forming almost everywhere, led by liberal intellectuals from the local elites (Jukoff-Eudin: 1943, p. 31). Following the October Revolution, when the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democrat Worker’s Party was banished and the Bolshevik faction (renamed in 1918 the Russian Communist Party) took over (Lichtheim: 1970, pp. 252-258), this kind of attitudes were officially tolerated, even encouraged to a certain level. The memory of the tsarist oppression was still too powerful to be neglected by the new political elite, which, having more than enough enemies, both internal and external, could not afford the risk of loosing the peripheries support. Animated by the possibility of an autonomous, or even an independent future, the revolutionary impetus of the minorities could easily be channeled towards the new government, if it was careless enough to manifest itself against this national fervor. But Lenin and its court clique were not at all willing to permit the secession of the former tsarist provinces. The Revolution’s victory was a precarious one and, with enemies lurking in almost every corner, the political disintegration of the geopolitical assembly gradually constituted during the tsarist rule, was the last thing the Bolsheviks wished for.
Two types of issues aroused from this particular situation. One was political. Lenin was fully aware of the imperiling potential that an improper attitude towards the sensibilities of the minorities might have upon the construction of a coherent and stable political entity able to successfully replace the Tsarist Empire. Just a few months before the consummation of the Bolshevik victory, he clearly stated what kind of behavior the revolutionary government should manifest in respect to the nationalities living inside the borders of the previous empire, but also the general aims that the government must pursue and achieve at any cost. The paragraph is worth quoting, despite of its length:
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If we assumed power we would at once recognize the right [of separation] of Finland, the Ukraine, Armenia, and of any other nationality which had been oppressed by tsarism (and by the Great Russian bourgeoisie). But we on our part do not at all wish for this separation. No. We want the largest possible state, the closest possible union, the largest possible number of nations which are closely associated with the Great Russians; we desire this in the interest of democracy and socialism, in the interest of bringing into the struggle of the proletariat the largest possible number of workers of all nations. We desire revolutionary proletarian unity, and unification, and not the separation of peoples. We desire a revolutionary unification, and therefore, we do not advance the slogan of the unification of all and every state in general. The task advanced by the social revolution is the unification only of the states which have passed over or are passing over to socialism, of the colonies which are freeing themselves, and so forth. Desiring a free unification, we are duty bound to recognize the freedom of separation (otherwise free unification would have no meaning). We are duty bound to recognize this freedom of separation all the more because tsarism and the Great Russian bourgeoisie with their oppression have left a heritage of great irritation and distrust toward most Great Russians (my emphasis, C.E.). Only by action and not by words can we conquer this distrust. But this unification means much to us and this must be stated and emphasized in the program of the party of such a motley state… (Lenin: 1931, apud. Jukoff-Eudin: 1943, p. 33).
The fact that Lenin was not willing to grant political freedom to the nationalities ‘which have been oppressed by tsarism’ is undeniable: these peoples must be attracted into a free union, a ‘revolutionary proletarian unity’, but this should be directly proportional to the progress achieved during the process of constructing socialism. From this point of view, only the most advanced states are to be integrated; however, even if Lenin does not specifically mention what will happen with the ‘lazy’ socialist constructing states, one can assume that they will be generously sustained in this direction. Here, the inextricable bound between ideology and politics which occurs in the socialist regimes is highly visible. As Ken Jowitt accurately observed, ‘as soon as the Soviet Union presented itself as the concrete incarnation of Leninism, all Soviet political actions and international relations immediately became, by definition, ideologically principled’ (Jowitt: 1992, p. 169). Evidently, the argument is extrapolable to all the political regimes which share the same Marxist-Leninist ideological umbrella.
Being senseless in the absence of the secession right, both the freedom of union, but especially the ‘freedom of separation’ appear to be only rhetorical artifices meant to
Political Science Forum temper the worries of the national elites. This delicate matter, which was to be (and, of course, purely formal) a constitutional concession, must be agreed upon for another reason: the feelings of ‘irritation’ and nevertheless, ‘distrust’ that the tsarist reign induced upon its non-Russian subjects (this does not mean that large categories of the Russian natives themselves were not dissatisfied in different degrees regarding their imperial political organization). On the other hand, Erich Hula may be correct when he writes about the sincerity with which the Russian socialists opposed the Romanovs’ national policies, but one should not forget that the Soviet Union became no less than the ‘prison of peoples’ that the Tsarist Empire was. ‘The socialist party violently and sincerely opposed the (…) [national] policies of the last Romanovs. From its first days, however, whether it confessed it openly or not, it was genuinely interested in preserving the existing political framework of Russia, in all its breadth and width, as the future of the socialist state’ (Hula: 1944, p. 170; see also Towster: 1951, p. 439). Worried by the centrifugal forces which were articulating national movements all over the peripheries of the former empire, Lenin attempted to win the trust of the local elites by firmly sustaining that in the new statehood about to be born, the minorities will be treated as equals, and their interests will not be neglected, but better represented and even more feasible than in the absence of their incorporation. Julian Towster identifies three main objectives trough which the Bolsheviks struggled to become attractive for the separatist movements: ‘(1) to convince the rest of the populace that the Slavs will not be favored over the other nationalities; (2) to persuade the Slavs in the U.S.S.R. that the Russians had abandoned the idea of dominating and forcibly Russifying them; and (3) to assure the Russians that their national heritage was not frittered away’ (Towster: 1951, p. 440).
The other dimension of the national dilemma was the ideological one. If the ‘democratic centralism’ and the need for cohesion necessitated a firm political unity, also ‘the Marxian concept of the state called for centralization, a unified commonwealth of workers for whom there existed no national boundaries’ (Batsell: 1928, p. 922). Marx believed that nationality is a superficial, yet functional instrument trough which the capitalist exploiters divide, weaken and obtain huge profits from the workers class. As
Political Science Forum soon as the proletarians will became aware of their class consciousness, all national cleavages will be transcended, this being the most important condition for the feasibility of the revolution. Marx’s ‘prophecy’ was invalidated by the historical events at the beginning of the last century. The First World War painfully proved the vigorousness of the national sentiment among the members of the socialist parties from Western Europe, as they took part of their national governments during the conflagration, regarded by Lenin as the imperialist war which should bring about the political and economical demise of the colonial-capitalist world order (Lenin: 1945). A reassessment of ‘orthodox’ Marxism was needed, and Lenin argued, in What is to be done, the requirement of a strong vanguard party, able to lead the workers to the revolutionary path. The party became indispensable for the final victory, because the proletarians could not develop, on their own, an appropriate political consciousness. Their demands can not exceed the concessions obtained by the syndicalist movements, thus leaving the corrupt, oppressive and inequitable capitalist order intact (Lenin: 1946).
To Lenin’s ambition in maintaining the geopolitical architecture of the Tsarist Empire was offered another ideological legitimation. Teresa Rakowska Harmstone affirms that, even if Lenin stated initially that the two share the same political weight, the right of free unification of the workers is more important than the secession right. In other words, the progressive unwinding of history towards socialism was strenghtening class cohesiveness in the prejudice of national seclusions, which were condemned to disappearance and oblivion.
The Bolsheviks justified their recon-quest of the former imperial dependencies in theoretical terms by explaining that the right to proletarian unity – allegiance to the common interests of the working class – took precedence in the historical progression towards socialism over the right to national self-determination – allegiance to a nation. The supposed desire of the workers of all former imperial nations to be united in a new socialist state was proclaimed a higher right than the right to independent statehood (Rakowska-Harmstone: 1992, p. 521)
The national question represented a constant preoccupation of the Russian socialists. Even from 1913, four years before the Revolution, both the Menshevik and the Bolshevik
Political Science Forum faction, anticipating the imminence of their victory, agreed “that the question of the right of nations to self-determination (…) cannot be involved with the question of the practicability of such a separation of a nation. This last question the Social Democratic Labor Party must decide in every case absolutely independently, from the point of view of the interests of the entire social movement, as well as from the point of view of the class struggle for Socialism” (Batsell: 1928, p. 922). In the same year, and referring to the same matter, Stalin advocated in favor of ‘regional’ instead of ‘national autonomy’, the first one being, in his opinion, susceptible to speed up and simultaneously improve the process of de-nationalization:
National autonomy does not solve the problem… The only real solution is regional autonomy… It [regional autonomy] does not divide people according to nation, it does not strengthen national partitions; on the contrary, it only serves to break down these partitions and unites the population in such a manner as to open the way for division of a different kind, division according to class… [Our] aim must be to unite the workers of all nationalities from Russia into united and integral collective bodies in the various localities and to unite these collective bodies into a single party… (Stalin: 1935, apud. Jukoff-Eudin: 1943, p. 32)
However, one must recognize, independently of the Bolshevik will for centralization, the desideratum of some of the republics themselves to unite with the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic, as was the case of Ukraine or Byelorussia (Bloembergen: 1967, pp. 27-29; see also Muravchik: 2004, p. 156). Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia3, and the political entities from Central Asia can also be included into this category. But the fact that the local communists were infiltrated into the governments of those republics with the help of the Russian communists and the Red Army, urging an otherwise uncertain political union, must not be forgotten. Even so, the future soviet republics succeeded in maintaining their independence for a while, but the presence of the Bolshevik military forces allowed ‘the Russian government’ to ‘gradually assume [its] authority over military and economic matters, transportation, and communications’, facilities ‘which it had enjoyed de facto from the moment the Soviet regime was
Georgia was somehow a ‘special case’, having a Menshevik government until 1921, when Lenin decided that its centrifugal tendencies could be no longer tolerated. It was the last important republic to be incorporated into the Soviet Union (Wolton: 2001, p. 324; Muravchick: 2004, p. 157), which begun its de jure existence in 1922.
Political Science Forum established in the area’. To preserve the appearance of their sovereignty, the former independent republics were granted the right ‘to maintain diplomatic relations with foreign countries’ (Szporluk: 1973, p. 26).
Although considering it an obsolete and reactionary force, the first leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union understood very well the difficulties arisen from the thorny national problem. Until the creation of an authentic ‘large centralized’ state ‘in which national loyalties will be superseded by an internationalist ethos’, Lenin ‘acknowledged the need to win the trust of the non- Russians with temporary concessions, such as federation and a degree of cultural autonomy’ (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 73); a few years before the seizure of power, he disregarded federalism and ‘cultural autonomy’ under the accusation of intensifying and perpetuating ‘national distinctions’ (Pipes: 1967, p. 127).
In the first years of the Bolshevik regime, it appeared that the concessions were expanded even further: the Baltic States were granted independence in 1920 (they will lose it in 1939 as a consequence of the Nazi-Soviet pact), and an autonomous Baskhir Republic came into existence. These measures were taken to prove the so-called respect for democracy and national self-determination the new regime possessed, along with the groundless accusations of chauvinism (Batsell: 1928, p. 293). In the case of the Baltic States, however, it should be clearly stated that from 1918, when they declared their independence, profiting by the political chaos of the defunct empire, and until 1920, when they won it on the battlefield fighting against the Soviet invader, Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians made colossal, almost supernatural efforts, if we take into account their countries’ size and military capacities in comparison with their weakened eastern neighbor – to prevent their reincorporation in Moscow’s renewed imperial texture (Vardys: 1967, p. 57). But Poland’s independence was not part of this particular line of ‘concessions’. Regaining its independence in 1918, with major Western support, the former tsarist province will experience over several decades the harsh experience of sovietization, embraced politically and nevertheless ideologically in the form of a ‘popular democracy’. With all that, the measures taken to ensure ‘modernization and
Political Science Forum social mobilization’ in the peripheral regions of the USSR, aiming to slowly disintegrate the national identities from those remote territories of the Federation, produced very often a paradoxical effect: they ‘actually strengthened the national sentiment’. (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 73).
On short, the basic acceptance of Lenin and his loyal comrades of this intriguing and painful dilemma can be considered an instrumental one, entailing ambivalent political usages which are conditioned only by the short or medium term interest of the party (Rakowska-Harmstone: 1992, p. 522; Pipes: 1967, p. 126; Ziegler: 1985, p. 20). Even if the opinions regarding the nationalities problem were initially divided along the autonomists/assimilationists line (the first arguing upon the need to loosen the center’s control over the peripheries, while the last ones tried to consolidate it), Lenin managed to find a compromise solution, ‘summed up in the phrase “national in form and socialist in content”’. Until their remote, but ideologically necessary ‘fusion’ (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 82), this result ‘allowed the recognition of the national principle by providing the nations of the defunct empire with a formal federal state structure’ (Rakowska-Harmstone: 1992, p. 522).
Disciples of Marx and Engels developed three main approaches toward nationalism, all stemming from a basic assumption that it was a transitional phenomenon in the progression of history. Some refused to recognize its salience altogether. Others came to believe that socialism would be fully realized only within the framework of a national state. Lenin’s Bolshevik’s took a middle road. Following their master’s lead, they took an instrumental view of the phenomenon: promoting national sentiment when it furthered the cause, and combating it when it stood in the way. At the same time, however, they recognized that nationalism was bound to survive in popular attitudes for some time to come and would have to be carefully managed by the new Soviet state, even as socialism was being built (Idem, p. 521).
Political Science Forum The recrudescence of intolerance and the intensifying of centralism: the Stalinist approach
Lenin’s death, which occurred in January 1924, entailed ravaging political struggles inside the upper lair of the party elite. However, even since 1922, the Bolshevik icon was seriously ill and, as a consequence, unable to perform its political duties; Joseph Stalin, former editor of Pravda and People's Commissar for Nationalities' Affairs during the October Revolution, begun to construct his tenacious and meandric rise to power (Radzinsky: 2003, pp. 225-239). In 1922, benefiting from Lenin’s and Kamenev’s support (the last one held at time the chairmanship of the Party’s Politburo), he was appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee, position which allowed him to pursue its political goals with renewed impetus. In the same period, Stalin’s disagreements with Tro ki (the architect of the Red Army’s famous victories during the Civil War, 1918-1921), and also with other prominent Bolsheviks had been expanded (Idem, pp. 241-262). Together with Kamenev and Zinoviev (a powerful member of the Politburo and leader of the Third International), he gradually removed Tro ki from its major political functions and exiled him in 1927 (de Launay: 1993, pp. 36-49); he was finally assassinated in 1940 in the last country that offered him political exile, Mexico (Idem, p. 141; Volkogonov: 1996, pp. 432-461). But Stalin’s accomplices were not spared by the growing political insecurity and paranoia4 of the supreme ruler, and met their end during the fake, ‘spectacular’ trials and their afferent purges which convulsed Moscow and the entire Soviet Union between 1934 and 1938 (de Launay, pp. 70-101).
This short introduction to the extremely tensioned post-Leninist political arena is vital in order to initiate, as much as possible, a comprehensive understanding of Stalinism in regard to the Soviet national dilemma. Maintaining the basic ideological approach, the Party’s General Secretary managed to destroy in a few short decades, at least for the Soviet citizens, the tolerant and permissive public position in respect to the rights of
The term is not at all exaggerated. Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva describes, in one of her books, with remarkable accuracy and attention for details, the astonishing and simultaneously frightening psychological profile of the one which can be denominated, with all the cynism and bitter irony contained by the syntagm, the ‘model dictator’ of the last century (Alliluyeva: 1998, pp. 349-385).
Political Science Forum minorities, which the regime had carefully constructed a long time before its final victory. Ruled in a great extent by its (in)security obsession and its peremptory care to discover real or fictive political conspiracies, Stalin exacerbated centralism, extended the role of the Secret Police (the NKVD), and promptly suppressed any social contestation, despite of its nature and intensity. He’s ‘Russian nature’, (despite the fact that he was actually from Georgia), understood as ‘the belief in the preponderance of force as being both the best mean to eliminate threats, and also the most certain way to defeat the enemies in case that they cannot be discouraged’ (Hoffman: 1999, p. 204) is highly recognizable in the manner he comprehended and tried to offer an adequate and permanent solution to the national problem.
What is the meaning that Stalin ascribes to a nation? To answer this question, a proper definition of a people is needed at first. For the ruler of the USSR, a people is, as he wrote in 1913 in Marxism and the National Question, ‘a stable community, historically formed, of language, of territory, of economic life and psychological formation, manifested trough a common culture’ (Stalin: 1913, apud. Roy: 2001, p. 105). Furthermore, the people
is not defined trough the political contract (a French conception from the XIX-th century), but trough an assembly of objective and ‘natural’ features. This is the German legacy (in which the narod coincides with Volk). Its transposition in a Marxist type mould involves that the respective ‘people’ passes trough different stages of political organization bounded by the production mode: from tribe (plemia), a stage of the primitive community, to the capitalist stage, the one of the nation (na iia), defined trough a common market, and therefore a territory (Idem, pp. 105-106).
The main component of the national identity is the language (Idem). Moreover, taking into account the people’s degree of economical development prevailing at one time, the Stalinist typology classified them as ‘nations’, ‘autonomous republics’ or ‘national territories’:
In theory, every people defined trough its language constitutes a ‘nationality’ (na ionalnost) which receives an administrative status based on its development conditions. The
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peoples who have reached the stage of nations (na iia), because they possess a capitalist mode of production and a market, find themselves in the situation to be assigned the status of ‘socialist Soviet republic’. The less developed peoples receive in a decreasing order the status of ‘autonomous republic’ (oblast) and ‘national territory’ (okrug). Each of these levels corresponds to an administrative status (Idem, p. 108).
Needless to say, these categories were highly flexible and responding especially to political, rather than theoretical demands, as it was the case for the whole theoretical and historiographic work from Stalin’s country (Tilett: 1967). Analyzing the particular case of the Soviet republics from Central Asia, Olivier Roy is convinced that ‘the strategic logic’ of the national ‘cutting up’ operated in the age of Stalinism is, more than everything, ambiguous. From a certain perspective, its rationality appears to be embedded in geopolitical purposes: ‘to favor the ethnic groups which can serve as bridgehead for the USSR beyond its frontiers and, in reverse, to “annihilate” those which might be acting in a similar manner for another power’ (Roy: 2001, p. 111). Furthermore, another reason of the Stalinist frontiers in Central Asia, perhaps not so evident in the first place, due to its striking geographical and ethnical irrationality, is that of weakening the ‘new republics’, preventing them from achieving authentic political power and, as a result, independence (Idem, p. 113). From another point of view, however, this strategy also proves its lack of logic, because the ethnies from this region ‘were’ (and still are, to a great extent) ‘so much interpenetrated among them that, in any case, no frontier at all would have been rational’ (Idem). It must be clearly mentioned that, when studying the social identities overlapping upon the Central Asian space, one must be extremely careful if it decides to apply analytical categories such as ‘nation’ (in its modern, westernized acception) or ‘state’, understood between the same conceptual parameters. Even ‘ethnie’ might not be appropriate in this case, because the overwhelming majority of the populations from this geopolitical area are nomads organized in tribal structures, thus eluding their apprehension inside conceptual and political frames such as ‘nations’ or ‘states’ (Fuller: 1994). The Soviet and, more concretely, the Stalinist political and ideological approach of the region, in other words, the western ideas adapted to communist ‘Asian’ (read forcibly) practices and aims, and paradoxically orientated towards the rejection of the same Western culture which articulated it (Wallerstein: 1994,
Political Science Forum p. 87) – were further complicating the problem, instead of resolving it, and its echoes reverberate intensely until the present days. The Russian susceptibilities towards Central Asia’s Muslims possess deep historical, cultural and religious roots. The Tsars and their administrations tolerated Islam as a religion, but they were intrigued by the cultural coherence of these peoples with reference to the Christian people from the empire, which they perceived it as a potential threat, partially deriving from the memory of the Tatars domination and also from their ‘spiritual allegiance paid’ to a foreign ruler, ‘the Sultan of Turkey’ (Wheeler: 1967, pp. 72-73). Furthermore, Stalin advances, in another work, entitled The National Question and Leninism, the distinction between ‘bourgeois’ and ‘socialist’ nations. Defined, as we ascertained, by four characteristics (territory, economy, culture and a certain psychological profile), a nation ceases to exist if not all the mentioned characteristics are gathered (Hodnett: 1967, p. 5). Moreover, Stalin recognized the significant contribution that bourgeoisie had to the process of forming a nation, but he firmly stated that on the road of building socialism, the obsolete and superficial ‘bourgeois’ nations were to be surpassed by the more advanced ‘socialist’ nations.
The bourgeoisie played the leading role in the consolidation of nations, and thus – it apparently followed – nationalist movements were basically bourgeois in nature. Stalin (…) rejected the addition of possession of national statehood as a fifth characteristic of nationhood, denied the existence of nations before capitalism and distinguished sharply between ‘bourgeois’ and ‘socialist’ nations. ‘Bourgeois’ nations were thoroughly dominated by the bourgeoisie and by nationalist political parties, and were united – however artificially – by a spirit of expansionism and xenophobia. ‘Socialist’ nations, which arose ‘on the ruins of the old, bourgeois nations, ’ were – on the contrary – united internally by a firm alliance between working class and peasantry and externally by deep bonds of friendship (…) (Idem).
But, despite this ideological analysis, ‘Stalin did not draw the conclusion that this presumed solidarity of socialist nations within the USSR would lead to their merging’. Nationalism and the forces which draw it will not ‘wither away’ until the completion of the Socialist Revolution all around the globe (Idem). Lenin’s apprentice agreed upon the right of the minorities to govern themselves, but he disapproved their desideratum
Political Science Forum towards exhaustive cultural autonomy. The latter was perceived as a conservative force which would surely ‘inhibit’ the ‘economic and social development’. To resolve the problem, Stalin emphasized the need according to which the stronger cultures should gradually incorporate the less developed ones. The argument was a simple one: recovering – whenever it matched its political ambitions – the Marxist dogma, the General Secretary sustained that ‘the level of cultural development was determined by the level of economic modernization’, so basically, the solution to the national dilemma consisted in ‘raising the level of economic development in the less advanced areas’ (Ziegler: 1985, p. 21).
Like his predecessor, the Georgian revolutionary recognized the importance and the inconvenients which nationalism could and did trigger upon the theory and practice of Soviet communism, so he tried to ideologically integrate it on the socialist stage of Marxism: nations, although essentially modified by their metamorphosis from ‘bourgeois’ to ‘socialist’, will still continue to exist until their peaceful and remote evanescence towards the final aim, a global communist society.
If the ideological attempts were nearly acceptable, the political practice was in a total dissonance with them. Even if the ‘Stalinist’ constitutions from 1924 and 1936 emphasized the sovereignty of the Soviet republics, along with their legal right of secession (Bloemberg: 1967), some ‘emancipated’ local leaders paid with their lives the thoughtless act of attempting to transform it into reality. Nonetheless, Leninist principles like the prevention of a certain nation to dominate the others were progressively taken aside, as the Russian element begun to be the most favored one (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 74). This consequence, Hajda argued, had a strong economic cause, the forced industrialization. This tendency ‘was accompanied by renewed stress on centralism and uniformity. Increasingly, the Russian language and Russian culture were seen as the cement that would bind the conglomerate of ethnic populations’ (Hajda: 1988, p. 326). In the same time, ‘Russian was made a compulsory subject in all schools. Recently formed non-Russian alphabets were switched to Cyrillic’ and ‘histories were rewritten to stress
Political Science Forum the “benefits” of Russian annexations’ (Idem), or to identify ‘a common historic march which reached its destination in the present Soviet state’ (Tillett: 1967, p. 36).
Stalin condemned and suppressed without hesitation the claims of the minorities regarding autonomy or worse, independence. But, during World War II, he was forced to appeal to the nationalist identitary matrix in order to achieve the social cohesion needed to fight against the German invader. Even if, during that time, he did not directly talk about nations and nationalism, and its radio messages were channeled towards ‘the peoples of the USSR’, and their common enemy, the subjacent tendentiousness is more than suggestive. This attitude was semi-officially maintained after 1945, and the emphasis on Russianness continued. Finally, the ‘deported nationalities’, especially from the Caucasus region, is another dark chapter in Stalin’s approach toward the Soviet nationalities problem (Conquest: 1960).
‘Letting the genie out of the bottle’: the Khruschevist approach
When it comes to Stalin’s successor, Immanuel Wallerstein believes that he can be considered, in comparison with the former two rulers of the Soviet Union, and only from certain points of view, ‘naïve’. This attribute became perceptible when Kruschev’s entire political career was taken in sight; it clearly appeared than, argues the renowned sociologist, that ‘his naiveté in the end was to think that one could control the process of loosening the reins without reforming the basic political structure’ (Wallerstein: 1994, p. 93). But, as Khrushchev later realized, once the process of ‘letting [the] genie out of the bottle’ (Idem) was started, especially –and this is the most important aspect in this regard for a communist or fascist regime – with the shy, but nevertheless authentic political and ideological approval, the social claims increase and the erosion of totalitarian regimes is almost unavoidable, as it is irreversible. Having a scarce legitimacy and imposing it in the first place by force, a totalitarian regime finds it very difficult to renew its ideological support - in the attempt to win real popular support – without estompating the social fear which actually constitutes the basis of its governance. And once the fear disappears, so
Political Science Forum does the best, and perhaps the only mean to deal adequately with the society’s dissatisfactions. In Wallerstein’s own words: ‘It has long been a truism of sociological analysis that is easier for a state to be totally repressive than to offer a small but inadequate amount of space for political and cultural pluralism’ (Idem, p. 94).
Perhaps Wallerstein’s disappointment becomes comprehensive if we take into account his Marxist scientific formation and, consequently, his socialist orientation, but it’s a certain fact that the opinions of the political analysts differ in considerable degrees when it comes to this topic. Michael Shafir pertinently argued about the perspectives from which one can analyze the Khrushchevist ‘legacy’. If we take into account the ‘intra-systemic perspective’ (the USSR in itself), than ‘the conclusion that Khrushchev was the personification of failure is simply unavoidable’ (Shafir: 1987, p. 157): striving to replace the brutal Stalinist measures of direct and, as much as possible, total control, Khruschev deteriorated the political mechanism which assured the limited cohesion and functionality of the USSR, and also estropiated Moscow’s influence upon the satellite countries from Eastern Europe. But, on the other hand, the ‘inter-systemic perspective’ helps us understand that Nikita Khrushchev offered the premises for ‘chang(ing) the face of Stalinist Eastern Europe’ (Idem, p. 158), and, one might ad, the change of the Soviet Union’s itself. As I will try to demonstrate, Khrushchev’s heritage, an ultimate burden for its political followers is much more complicated and equivocal than it appears in the first place.
The new General Secretary accomplished its political apprenticeship in Ukraine, where Stalin named him in 1938 the leader of the subordinate communist party from this republic. Before that, during ‘the days of the Great Terror (1934-1938), he proved himself a fanatical purger quite to the liking of Stalin’, a fact which contributed a lot to the propulsion of his career and to his appointment in the above mentioned position. Here, he ‘became notorious for the excessive persecution of anybody suspected of oppositional or nationalist leanings (my emphasis). The fact that many of his victims of those days were later rehabilitated by him, posthumously or otherwise, must not go unmentioned’ (Van Goudoever, Dittrich: 1997, pp. 148-149). Taking these into account,
Political Science Forum the destalinization which ensured his place in the XXth century’s history appeared to be nothing more than a well calculated political strategy, orientated towards the marginalization of his opponents, winning the West’s sympathy and gaining popular trust. At least this is the opinion of Richard Nixon, who knew him and Moscow’s political elite well enough at that time to write that
In his ‘secret speech’, uttered at the Party Congress from 1956, Khrushchev did not denounce the terror during Stalin’s reign because he suddenly discovered that he has moral scruples. He did this thing within the frame of a well calculated political game. Choosing his words carefully, Khrushchev did not condemn at any moment Stalin’s brutality itself. He admiratively noted that Lenin ‘resorted with out mercy and hesitation to extreme methods’ (…) He denounced only the crimes in which his political rivals were involved. Truly, rewriting the history of the Stalinist purges, Khrushchev could use them to effectuate its own purges (Nixon: 2000, pp. 235-236).
The same political approach was taken for the USSR’s national question. In fact, Stalin’s former protégée was himself, to a great extent, a ‘Stalinist’. First of all, his political experience was circumscribed within the Stalinist frame (Jowitt: 1992, pp. 180-195); he stressed, and followed with determination, like his predecessor, the importance of heavy industry (Brezinski: 1971, p. 158); and, finally, he operated many political shifts, covered in intriguing dialectical sinuosities, with the basic purpose of strengthening his power and benefiting from each and every opportunity to pursue and achieve its goals. On the other hand, Khrushchev’s newness cannot be denied. He acted to consolidate the party apparatus, not to weaken it, like Stalin’s irrational purges finally resulted into; he allowed a certain degree of cultural and social freedom, striving to create a “‘socialist commonwealth” united by ideological incentives’ (Shafir: 1987, p. 157), and he certainly relaxed the Soviet geopolitics, by introducing the concept of ‘peaceful coexistence’.
Posing as a reformer and being one to some extent, Khrushchev showed, at least in its first years in office, a more concessive attitude towards nationalities, trying somehow to compensate his predecessor’s mistakes in this domain. This attitude revitalized the
cultural identities among the non- Russian citizens of the Soviet Union (Hajda: 1988, p.
Political Science Forum 326). However, ‘the changes were one of emphasis rather than substance’, even if ‘as a part of the process of measured de-Stalinisation, Khrushchev relaxed control in the areas of nationalities policy and announced a return to the Leninist principles’ (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 74). In the attempt to avoid Stalin’s error, ‘Russian chauvinism was kept in check, the party refrained from blatant Russification and non-Russians were assured that their languages and cultures would be respected’ (Idem).
The social and cultural liberties introduced by Nikita Khrushchev had, as his successor Mikhail Gorbachev will have the chance to convince himself after a few decades, quite an opposite effect when trying to impose his own reformist approach. Instead of reinforcing the fidelity and attachment toward the party and the official ideology, they distanced it even further. As a consequence, the revolts from Poland and Ukraine that had shaken the socialist camp in 1956 (Brezinski: 1971, pp. 239-260 and pp. 210-238; Taubman: 2005, pp. 270-299) announced an ideological readjustment and a ‘tightening of the screw’. For the minorities, this shift was translated trough cultural and political oppressions, as ‘the Party’s goal was no longer the flourishing of the nationalities, but the elimination of national distinctions and the creation of a Russian-speaking, socially homogenous, socialist state’ (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 75; see also Szporluk: 1973, p. 36). From the end of the 1950’s, the linguistic policy also took a more ‘Stalinist’ turn, when CPSU decided, ‘in the education reform of 1958-9’ to include ‘provisions designed (…) to promote the study of Russian at the expense of the native languages’ (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 74). Combating any real, but mostly potential peripheral tensions, the party accused more and more ‘regional officials’ of ‘“localism” (mestnichestvo)’, ‘and there was renewed concern about nationalist tendencies’ (Idem). There was also another approach to the matter. Yaroslav Bilinski supposesed that the new orientation was impulsioned also by the success Khrushchev obtained in 1957 against his main political opponents, Molotov, Malenkov, Shepilov and Kaganovich. It is possible that the General Secretary ‘may have felt that his position was sufficiently consolidated so that he need no longer woo the support of the non-Russian party organizations’ (Bilinsky: 1967, p. 17).
Political Science Forum The concept which underlined the new policy towards the nationalities was that of ‘drawing [them] together’ until their much expected ‘fusion’ (Nahaylo: 1987: pp. 74-75). It was, as we have seen, of Leninist extraction. In this stage of the socialist development, Khrushchev and the party ideologues argued, the nationalities problem is articulated by two distinct, yet simultaneous ‘tendencies’: ‘on the one hand, individual nations undergo all-round development and flourish; on the other hand, nations grow even closer together’ (Idem, p. 75). At the XXII Party Congress, which took place in October 1961, these contradictory and rather ambiguous ‘tendencies’ – but dialectical for the Soviets, therefore perfectly comprehensive and historically unavoidable – were clearly stated in the second section of ‘The New Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’, entitled ‘The Tasks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Building a Communist Society’. In the fourth part of the second section – ‘The Tasks of the Party in the Field of National Relations’ – one could read the following:
Under socialism the nations flourish and their sovereignty grows stronger. The development of nations does not proceed along lines of strengthening national barriers, national narrowmindedness and egoism, as it does under capitalism, but along lines of their associations, fraternal mutual assistance and friendship. The appearance of new industrial centers, the prospecting and developments of mineral deposits, the virgin land development project and the growth of all modes of transport increase the mobility of the population and promote greater intercourse between the peoples of the Soviet Union (Mendel: 1961, p. 460).
It appears that, taking into account the new economic developments, the party recognizes the rights of the minorities to fully benefit them, to ‘flourish’ and prosper in accordance to their distinctive cultural and national marks, but firmly opposes ‘national narrowmindedness an egoism’. As these terms remain indefinite, it is not wrong to presume that they are at the discretion of the ruling elite. Furthermore, when assessing the present condition of the national question, the party declares its equidistance, stating that it ‘neither ignores, nor over-accentuates national characteristics’ (Idem, p. 461).
Another task of the party ‘in the sphere of national relations’ was
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To continue promoting the free development of the languages of the people of the U.S.S.R. and the complete freedom of every citizen of the U.S.S.R. to speak, and to bring up and educate his children in any language, ruling out all privileges, restrictions or compulsions in the use of this or that language. By virtue of the fraternal friendship and mutual trust of the peoples, national languages are developing on a basis of equality and mutual enrichment. The voluntary study of Russian in addition to the native language is of positive significance, since it facilitates reciprocal exchanges of experience and access of every nation and nationality to cultural gains of all the other peoples of the U.S.S.R., and to world culture. The Russian language has, in effect, become the common medium of intercourse and cooperation between all the peoples of the U.S.S.R. (my emphasis) (Idem, p. 463).
Even if the official position seems to be a very tolerant and democratic one, it is more than obvious that the Stalinist practices of stressing out the preeminence of the Russian element are essentially recovered.
As a concluding remark, the observation that Khrushchev’s well intensions in respect to the national policy deepened the confusions and discontents of both the integrationists and also the autonomists, it is not at all improper. The ‘flourishing’ of nations, but also their simultaneous, even if gradual, ‘fusion’ remained unclear even for the most ideologues of the party, but nonetheless, for the General Secretary’s supporters and, especially, for his increasingly powerful opponents. Besides the ideological and political implications, ‘the concept of fusion has remained anathema to the non-Russian nationalities and to Russian patriots concerned about their implication for their own nation’ (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 76).
Recovering Stalinism? Brezhnev’s efforts to ‘crystallize’ the Soviet people
To what extent did Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev attempt and manage to revitalize the practices of his predecessor, Josef Stalin? The question is a difficult one and it can be offered many answers. First of all, the one who overthrow Khrushchev begun its political career as a rigid apparatchik serving under Stalin and he was certainly impressed by the effective, yet brutal means with which the Georgian maintained the political architecture of the
Political Science Forum Soviet conglomerate. He tried to restore the glory and the practices of his predecessor. Centralism, censorship, national and social intolerance, the cult of personality, all of these were reinforced in comparison to Khrushchev’s era. However, Brezhnev pursued, most of his time in office, a détente approach over the international arena and the United States in particular; one cannot affirm the same thing about Stalin. Furthermore, in regard to Soviet Union’s national difficulties, Leonid Ilyich expressed a much more intolerant ideological position than Stalin: his attention was channeled towards the ‘forging of the Soviet People’, or its ‘crystallization’ (Idem, p. 77). Ironically, Stalin’s repressive attitude towards regional leaders had no or less ideological coverage: the nations developed in the same extent as their economy, but an eventual cultural dissolution inside a superior identity, a Soviet melting pot, was, at least for the time being, out of the question. Reversely, the ideology of the Brezhnev era was strikingly ‘orthodox’, but the political practice was more relaxed than during Stalin’s reign, even if the emphasis on Russian language was increased in comparison to the Khrushchev era, and ‘the circulation of the non-Russian periodicals was gradually restricted’ (Idem, p. 78). Moscow’s intolerant attitude caused, in the last years of Brezhnev’s leadership, serious ‘protests’ among ‘dissidents in the Baltic republics’ and also ‘demonstrations in Georgia and Estonia’ (Idem).
Ideologically, politically and economically, the Soviet Union’s advanced decay between the 60’s and the beginning of the 80’s is indisputable. Without being underlied by the same amount of political and military force as during Stalin’s regime, and already having experienced the limited liberties allowed by Khrushchev, the official ideology became farcical and social tensions in the periphery areas started to gather up. The Helsinki accords from 1975 impulsioned those tensions even further, but Brezhnev and his ‘gerontocracy’ managed, for the moment, to overcome them (Hajda: 1988, p. 327). To consider this period as the most lusterless from the Soviet Union’s history means to apply it a very truthful judgment.
Political Science Forum The Andropov-Chernenko interregnum
During the short Andropov-Chernenko interregnum (autumn 1982- spring 1985), the nationalities topic took a more Leninist turn. The former head of KGB, Iuri Andropov, believed that ‘Russian nationalism had been allowed to get out of hand’, and the party’s task was to remedy this state of affairs (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 84). His successor, Konstantin Chernenko, who became General Secretary in February 1984, simply did not possess the necessary amount of time to treat the problem of minorities in an adequate manner. The Soviet Union was confronted with difficulties which proved to be insurmountable in just a few years. Chernenko’s only mentionable statement regarding this issue appeared tow months later in Pravda, where he affirmed that ‘we do not see the relations between nationalities which have taken shape in our state as something congealed and inalterable, and no subject to the influence of new circumstances’ (Idem, p. 85). With other words, an ambiguous, but pragmatic position.
Recovering Menshevism? The Gorbachevist approach
The more and harder to elude failures of the communist regime entailed a resurgence of the national feelings all along the Soviet Union, calked mainly upon the spiritual coordinates of the each Soviet republic, region or territory. They fortified the social convulsions and will eventually lead, in combination with other factors, to the dismembering of the USSR ( Buga: 2007, pp. 54-58; Holmes: 2004, pp. 180-182; Soulet:1998, pp. 324-325). When analyzing the topic in a more profound way, one can discover that the regime itself tolerated, to a certain level, this kind of manifestation, as a safety valve to maintain social and peripheral tensions at the lowest possible limit (Wolton: 2001, p. 320).
Two main imbricated directions can be distinguished inside the Gorbachevist reformist program. The external one resided in the decongestion of the international relations arena from the last years of the Cold War. It encapsulated two main dimensions: a geopolitical
Political Science Forum one (further negotiations to reduce the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers – see Claval: 2001, p. 120; the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan, and Moscow’s attempts to build a common security architecture for the entire European continent – the new Soviet security concept regarding Europe was that of “reasonable sufficiency” – Kolodziej: 2007, p. 142), and an economic one, orientated towards winning the West’s sympathies for the country’s critical situation and, implicitly, its financial support, or even make it a ‘partner’ in the process of reconstructing Soviet communism (Revel: 1995, p. 118; Besançon: 1992, p. 8). Moscow’s claims for the military and nuclear relaxation of the global stage (‘the new thinking’ – Nye: 2005, p. 123) had deep economical roots, similar to those of Khrushchev’s reformism, when he launched the ‘peaceful coexistence’ concept.
The internal direction was constituted by three interconnected levels, the political, the economical and the social one. In the first place, Gorbachev strove to redesign the Supreme Soviet (Parliament). It was pretty much dysfunctional and its cripples-ness was accentuated by the fact that it could no longer cope with the society’s demands, orientated towards transparency, decentralization and a general democratization of the political life. The same cause led the General Secretary to conclude that a reassessment of the party itself was necessary, and this decision reverberated especially in the remote regions of the Federation, where its corruption and stagnation was were higher than towards the centre. In the first years of Gorbachev’s leadership, the measures taken to revitalize the Union’s economical efficiency consisted in ‘a series of coercive measures orchestrated trough a campaign of enthusiasm’, combined with a ‘semi-prohibition of alcohol’, and ‘vague attempts to inject a minimum of market economy’ (Besançon: 1992, p. 8). When ‘perestroika’, the overall economic strategy to cope with the system’s disfunctionalities, was launched, popular support was generally low, in reverse proportion with the circumspection with which the new program was received. ‘The tired, suspicious and uncertain of its rights population preferre(d) to wait than to do something’ (Idem). It is not hard to conclude that the society was basically the object of the first two levels from the internal orientations of the Gorbachevist reformism and also the ‘grave-
Political Science Forum digger’ of the communist regime. Inside it, centrifugal nationalist forces played a key role in dismembering the central pole of the Leninist political legacy, the USSR.
In the case of communist regimes, as in the case of fascist ones, ideology can be considered their most distinctive feature. Both directions identified in Gorbachev’s plan to reform the USSR are underlied by ideological considerations. The external one lies in the direct continuity of Khrushchevism. If Stalin’s successor ‘rejected the Leninist thesis regarding the inevitable military confrontation between capitalism and socialism’ arguing that the struggle between them ‘must continue with other means, as a competition between two models to create order and global welfare’, Gorbachev came with a striking ideological innovation. He ‘abandoned both positions in favor of cooperation with the West and of adapting the best Western practices’ (Kolodziej: 2007, pp. 141-142). It was a total blow for ‘orthodox’ communists, a pleasant surprise to the United States, but a powerless struggle in preventing the external factors which contributed to the disintegration of Soviet communism. Most intriguingly, it came from someone who pretended to have rediscovered the long forgotten essence of Leninism, and who wanted to readapt it to the present conditions (Gorbachev: 1988a, p. 62). Of course, he argued, abundantly quoting Lenin, that Marx and Engels ‘ridiculized’, with good reason, “the mechanical learning and the simple repetition of the «formulas» which, in the best case, can only trace the general tasks, which are necessarily changing in respect to the concrete economical and political situation of each distinctive phase of the historical process’ (Gorbachev: 1986, pp. 7-8). However, Gorbachev conveniently forgets that the struggle against imperialism was one of the ‘general tasks’ Marx and Lenin passed on to their followers. Perhaps, as the history of the last century shows us – therefore using an empirical methodology, one can conclude that Leninism in itself, meaning its ideological core, but also its political appliance, cannot be reformed. It can only be implemented or abandoned5. Gorbachev’s philosophical drama consisted in the impossibility to reform
China does not necessarily contradict the above analysis. Even if it operated major economical concessions, its target was to legitimize, as much as possible, the Beijing regime, which is, like any other communist regime, of Leninist extraction. This compromise, along with the prompt and brutal reprimation of social dissatisfactions, ensured its political survival.
Political Science Forum Leninism, and thus to ‘connect’ its country to ‘the concrete economical and political situation’ of its time.
By stressing the central, even reinforced role of the party in the process of renewing the Soviet Union, Gorbachev proved once again his indispensable attachment to the Leninist cause.
We must understand in what lies the role of the party as political vanguard in the actual stage. We do not renounce the Leninist conception of the party as being the political vanguard of the society. We consider that in the stage of restructuring, the role of the party will grow even more in perfecting the socialist society, in the accomplishment of profound transformations. This claims from the party the elaboration of just politics, scientifically founded, based on correct appreciations and prognoses. This calls for an ample ideological and organizatorical work. A task like this is fitted only for a party which possesses Marxist, scientifically methods of analysis. This is why not only we do not question the ruling and leading role of the party, but, on the contrary, we consider that it must be treated even more profound. Without doubt, this role must be more ponder-able, namely in the sense which I refer to – in the sense of accomplishing the functions of political vanguard (my emphasis) (Gorbachev: 1988b, p. 21).
The ideological circumscribing of the internal direction of Gorbachevist reformism is recognizable trough the ‘glasnost’ concept. Meaning ‘transparency’ and sincerity, in order to make the reform functional, it had the unexpected effect of dismantling the psychological fear which bonded the system’s components altogether. Another effect was that it ‘intensified’ ‘the open nationalism against Moscow’, by allowing the appearance of many unregistered, ‘informal’ groups. Although most of them were not political, they were ‘the basis of the 500 and more parties which will appear until 1990’ (Holmes: 2004, pp. 181-182; see also Ferrari: 1999, pp. 59-115). Gorbachev’s social and political concessions were immense and he truly believed that a more franc approach of the political and economical matters would have the effect of winning the society’s trust and cooperation towards continuing the work of ‘constructing socialism’. He acknowledged that the difficulties encountered along the reformist path were much more and deep than anyone expected. At the January 1987 plenary session of the Central Committee of the party, he boldly declared: ‘(…) we can see that the goods are being slowly produced, that
Political Science Forum the restructuring proved to be more difficult, the causes of the problems which accumulated in the society – more deep than they seemed before. The further we advance in the restructuring work, the clearer the amplitude and its signification, the more other unsolved problems, inherited from the past, reveal themselves’ (Gorbachev: 1987, p. 6). It was almost a shocking declaration for a General Secretary, because it seemed to be orientated against the ‘wooden language’ of the party – being, however, just a flexibilization and a readaptation of it, with reference to the society’s claims (Thom: 2005, pp. 229-237) - and the institutionalized lie which suffocated public life. But, as Paul Kennedy wrote when operating a contemporary analysis of the ‘contradictions’ the Soviet Union experienced in the second half of the ‘80’s, ‘the mere recognition of (…) problems is not a guarantee that they will be solved’ (Kennedy: 1987, p. 490). On the other hand, no one can deny Gorbachev sincere and passionate struggle to revitalize communism, but its unwillingness and perhaps the impossibility to excel the ideological identitary matrix of Leninism were translated into an undermining of its efforts.
Gorbachev managed to attract, in the first instance, the reformist wing of the party, but with the passing of years and the revealing of his program growing difficulties, he inclined towards the conservatives, among which the powerful group of bureaucrats occupied a central place. Finally, he ended up rejected by the both faction, the first accusing him of returning to dogmatic, Stalinist principles, while the second, understandably circumspect towards their new ally, blamed him for betraying Leninism and bringing the Soviet Union into the brink of collapse. At a first glimpse of the subject, it would appear that the conservative’s were right – and they were, to a great extent - , but one must not forget that Gorbachev sincerely tried to reconfigure communism, functionally and ideologically, not to overcome it. ‘The work [of restructuring, of creating “a new profile of socialism”] must be realized trough methods imbued with humanity, with respect, with esteem. (…) In general we must reborn the authentic, wonderful sense of the word “comrade”. To reborn the spirit of comrades-ness in the party, in the society’ (Gorbachev: 1988b, p. 10). Only when he was aware of the inevitable dismantling of the regime, his position with reference to the maintaining of the
Political Science Forum Union seemed to be a bit more concessive and therefore ambiguous (Riassanowski: 2001, pp. 601-620; Calvocoressi: 2000, pp. 70-73; Johnson: 2005, pp. 739-741)
The new General Secretary, who was elected by party to solve in the first place the system’s economical, not necessarily national dysfunctions (Calvocoressi: 2003, p. 122) understood very well that his reformist approach, remembered especially for ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’, would have a reinforcing effect upon the minorities with reference to their claims for increased cultural and political autonomy. But - to quote the title of a chapter from David Price-Jones’s book The War that Never Was. The Fall of the Soviet Empire, 1985-1991, ‘no one was happy’, neither the society nor the regime itself (PryceJones: 1995, p. 29) - so he had to assume this risk in order to proceed to the reconfiguration of the functional mechanisms of the Union. However, before a further analysis of Gorbachev’s impact upon the Moscow imposed communist regime, we should emphasize again, like Joseph Nye did, that the last General Secretary ‘wanted to reform communism, not replace it (my emphasis)’ (Nye: 2005, p. 123). The collapse of the Leninist political legacy was - for him and for many others - a tragic accident and the Kremlin ruler made almost superhuman efforts in order to prevent the occurrence of the cracks which finally demolished the Soviet Union’s scaffolding. Nye offers a pertinent and concise diagnose of the reform process and of the social, administrative and political causes that eventually entailed its failure. He argues about how
the reform rapidly transformed into a revolution from below, rather than controlled from above. In his internal and external politics, Gorbachev started a series of actions which have accelerated the existent decline of the Soviets and fasten the end of the Cold War. When he came to power in 1985, he first tried to discipline the soviet people (peoples would be more correct, my note), as a way to overcome the existent economical stagnation. When discipline was not enough to resolve the problem, he launched the idea of perestroika, meaning ‘restructuring’, but he could not restructure from above, because the bureaucrats (…) sabotaged its dispositions. To scare the bureaucrats, he used a strategy of glasnost (transparency, t. n.), namely open discussion and democratization. The fact that he let loose peoples discontents regarding the way the system works bended the bureaucrats, and perestroika followed its course. But, once transparency and democratization allow the people to say what they think, and to vote accordingly, many said: ‘We want out. (…) This is an imperial dynasty, and our place is not within this empire” (Idem).
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In respect to the nationalities problem, it is interesting to observe that the last general secretary of the Soviet Union manifested, in comparison with its economical and political openness – a strikingly ‘orthodox’ approach. It was because he was fully aware, as he was also about to experience - of the tremendous and disruptive force nationalism possessed and its orientation against the basis of the Soviet communist regime. Speaking about the party’s successes in this matter, he ‘dialectically’ argued that
our accomplishments must not create an image of some national processes without problems. The contradictions are characteristic to any development, they are inevitable in this sphere also. The main thing is to see the aspects and their permanent features, to search and properly answer to the problems life generates. Especially because here were not liquidated yet, and are still painfully remarked the tendency towards national seclusion, tendencies to live from another’s work. Elaborating, in perspective, the main directions of the national politicy, it is very important to concern ourselves that the contribution of all republics to the countrywide economic complex to correspond to their growing economical and spiritual potential. The development of the cooperation in production, of the collaboration and mutual assistance of the republics corresponds to the supreme interests of our multinational state and of each republic. The task of the party organizations, of the Soviets relies in a more complete (sic!) usage, in the general interest, the existent possibilities, to perseveringly overcome any manifestations of local patriotism’ (Gorbachev: 1986, p. 67).
The great emphasis Gorbachev stressed upon the national question clearly transpers from the following passage: ‘The whole atmosphere of our life and common work, our family and school, the army, the culture, the literature and art are called to form and educate the soviet peoples of all nationalities, and in the first place the young people, in the spirit of the most noble sentiments – the sentiment of internationalism and that of soviet patriotism’ (Gorbachev: 1987, p. 42). Marxism-Leninism’s central concept, that of the ‘new man’, one being a true Soviet, not a national patriot, was not at all abandoned; instead, it was perceived as one of the central pillars of the new reformist movement.
The Soviet patriotism constitutes our greatest value. Any manifestations of nationalism and chauvinism are incompatible with it. Nationalism is blind, regardless the shape it embraces it.
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The attempts of self-isolation lead only to spiritual deadlock. The knowing and understanding of dimensions, the greatness and the humane concreteness of the socialist revolution, of the whole truth and of the heroism of the fight carried on by the party and the people for socialism, for defending the socialist Fatherland, fuel the roots of soviet patriotism. Here we are getting close to a very important matter, the blending, trough the instrumentality of the revolution and of the Soviet power, of national pride and national patriotism of each people with the internationalism of the socialist society (my emphasis) (Gorbachev: 1988a, pp. 27-28).
Ironically, although the emphasis on Russianess was officially controlled, Gorbachev stressed out in his first year in office ‘the “leading” role of the Great Russian people during the Second World War’, and mistakenly referred to, in a televised appearance, ‘to the Soviet Union as Russia’. These oversights fueled the already growing ‘Russian chauvinism’ (Nahaylo: 1987, pp. 86-87). It is more probable that Gorbachev confounded Russian nationalism with ‘Soviet patriotism’, instead of accidentally revealing he’s hypocrisy trough the double role (a desiteratum, but also a coercive mean) that, along with his predecessors, ascribed to the official ideology. We will probably never receive a certain answer. And maybe the question is not so important itself in reference to Gorbachev general policies regarding the nationalities. Even if he adopted, in the last years of the Union, a more radical approach toward the federative republics, he proceeded so in order to safeguard the regime itself and not because he would have been a ‘Russian chauvinist’.
Bohdan Nahaylo identified three main dimensions of ‘Gorbachev’s national dilemma’ (Olcott: 1989, p. 339). The first can be referred to as the federal one and it encompassed ‘the “all-round consolidation and development of the multinational Soviet State, involving opposition to all manifestations of localism and national-narrowmindedness’ (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 88). It was followed by the economical dimension, translated into the ‘emphasis on the rational use of resources and the contribution of the republics and autonomous units to the good of the “integral countrywide economic complex”’ (Idem), avoiding some republics ‘to live from the work of another ones’ (Gorbachev: 1986, p. 67). Finally, the ideological dimension revealed without any doubt Gorbachev’s Leninist Weltanschauung. It pointed out the “development of the Soviet People’s single culture –
Political Science Forum socialist in content, diverse in national forms and internationalist in spirit” (Nahaylo: 1987, p. 89). All these components of Gorbachev’s plan to cope with the serious challenges of nationalism are, as one can see at the first site, fully intertwined. But, both separately and also together, they could not put a stop to the national cataclysm which epicenter was, sadly-ironically, the party itself, and Gorbachev as its emblematic image.
In the end, Jowitt’s question about the last secretary of the USSR, ‘Bolshevik or Menshevik?’ (Jowitt: 1992, p. 220) remains a very difficult - even impossible to answer – one. The analyst inclines towards the second category, composed of the former more liberal party colleagues of Lenin and its supporters, or ‘minimalists’, as Michael Shafir calls them when referring to the same dichotomization which has splitted the subordinate Social-Democratic Party of Romania. The difference between ‘minimalists’ and, respectively, ‘maximalists’, is an essential one: while the first indicated that only a ‘legalist evolutionism’ could lead to the victory of the revolution, the last were convinced that all the possible means, including terrorism and violence, must be used in order to achieve the revolutionary goal (Shafir: 1985, p. 22).
The main arguments for considering Gorbachev a Bolshevik have already been outlined: the central, vanguard role of the party in the reform process and the Leninist, integrationist attitude towards the minorities. Generally, they are of rather ideological than political or ‘practical’ nature and find their place within the general frame of what Gorbachev would call the creative, refreshable, Leninist legacy. Some of the arguments which draw him near Menshevism have also been mentioned, as there were the sincere efforts he made to reconstruct the system by injecting it strong doses of legality, morality and functionality. It is true that Gorbachev regretted to some extent the split between the Russian socialists, but does that automatically transform him into a Menshevik? Enumerating further reasons to consider him so, Jowitt writes, when comparing the last General Secretary to Stalin, that ‘Stalin wanted to strengthen the party as an exclusive “Bolshevik” political “fortress”’, but the Menshevik acception of the party resembled a ‘banquet’. This was also, according to Jowitt, Gorbachev’s will, that ‘the party [should] be more a banquet than [a] fortress’ (Jowitt: 1992, p. 233). Furthermore, in the autumn of
Political Science Forum 1987 ‘Gorbachev could say that the party no longer had a monopoly of truth, on the “correct line”, because he romantically presumed an identity between a Soviet national myth and Party ideology’ (Idem, p. 248). This statement is very non-Leninist at first site, but, at a closer analysis, could not one identify a strategic disguise of the visibility and preeminence of the party, in order to win the society’s trust and engage it on the neverending, protean path of the socialist construction?
There is no answer to this question, because the question itself is addressing theoretical and conceptual issues, being ‘more a reflection of the needs of scholarly (…) categorization than of the real, fluid situation’ (Shafir: 1985, p. 35) the Soviet Union experienced in those final years. What matters is that over more than ‘seventy years of rule, the CPSU had failed to create a supra-ethnic Soviet political community. There were Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, and Lithuanians, but not very many “Soviets” in the Soviet Union. It is not the dramatic presentation of ethnic demands per se that has shocked Gorbachev. The absence of a more powerful countervailing force of civic soviet identification has done that’ (Jowitt: 1992, p. 248).
To conclude, Henry Kissinger’s judgment of Gorbachev and its reformist intentions is a very powerful and pertinent one. He sustained that ‘Gorbachev did not deserve neither the exaltation, but neither the disregard which he alternatively experienced. Because – Kissinger further writes - he inherited a set of truly difficult, if not insurmountable, problems’ (Kissinger: 2003, p. 685).
From Lenin to Gorbachev, one can observe that the ideological approach to the ‘national dilemma’ the Soviet Union had to confront during its entire existence was a rather flexible than a rigid one. Dependent mostly on the Party’s social and political goals, but also on the international context, the national problem was permanently instrumented in order to reflect the ideological needs of the moment. However, despite the fragile
Political Science Forum concessions that Nikita Khrushchev or its later successor, Michael Gorbachev, made to the nationalities living inside the borders of the Soviet Union (raising the level of their cultural autonomy, or ensuring a better representation of the minorities within the central ruling bodies), the Party’s desideratum to create a Soviet patriotism and eventually a Soviet people never materialized. Even if, theoretically, the minorities were considered as having equal rights as the Russian population, the Soviet Union was always perceived as a domination of the ‘Moscow centre’ oriented towards the peripheries. Constitutionally, every Soviet republic could proclaim its independence at any time, but politically that was nothing more than an illusion, and a very dangerous one, nevertheless.
Like his predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev, Michael Gorbachev also believed that a certain amount of cultural and political liberties would help renew the minorities’ fidelity toward the aim of constructing socialism within a post-national society led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But that fidelity never existed. From the era of the Czarist Empire, when they were conquered and forcibly included in it, and to the last days of the Soviet Union, the non-Russians never stopped opposing Moscow’s imperialism. Due to this fact, the liberties that the communist regime provided them with from time to time were perceived as opportunities, usable in their quest for independence and not at all as concessions that Moscow generously offered them in order to gain their loyalty. Despite its perseverance to create the perfect society, economically prosperous and free from ethnic tensions, which were perceived as a characteristic of bourgeois, not socialist regimes, the Soviet communist project never managed to overcome the national cleavages which finally led, in combination to other factors, to its demise.
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Political Science Forum Wheeler G. (1967), ‘The Muslims of Central Asia’, in Problems of Communism, 16, September-October, pp. 72-90 Wolton, T. (2001), Roșu Brun. Răul secolului, Iași: Funda ia Academia Civică Ziegler, C. E. (1985), ‘Nationalism, Religion and Equality among Ethnic Minorities: some Observations on the Soviet case’, in Journal of Ethnic Studies, pp. 19-32
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