Review: “How the National Question was Solved in Soviet Central Asia (A Reply to Falsifiers)” – R. Tuzmuhamedov

R. Tuzmuhamedov’s “How the National Question was Solved in Soviet Central Asia” offers a superb analysis of the socialist transformation of Soviet Central Asia.

Most of the book is what you would expect from something published by Progress Publishers: constant praise for Lenin and the Great October Socialist Revolution (not that I think that’s a bad thing!). However, before you dismiss this book as ‘Soviet propaganda’ (which it arguably is, albeit I don’t think that makes his dialectical materialist analysis any less accurate), between pages 78-90 there is hidden a real gem that makes this book truly invaluable for Central Asian studies: a class analysis of “Kokand Autonomy”!

“Kokand Autonomy” (also known as “Turkestan Autonomy”) was an anti-Soviet separatist regime that existed in the city of Kokand, in modern day Uzbekistan, between November 1917 and February 1918. The Tashkent Soviet and Red Army liquidated “Kokand Autonomy” after its leader, the Kazakh Mustafa Chokayev, who later tried to collaborate with the Nazis, and his Basmachi ally, Irgash Bey, refused a Soviet ultimatum to surrender. Thus, whenever Western scholars refer to “Kokand Autonomy” (Tuzmuhamedov specifically singles out Geoffrey Wheeler) it is usually because they are trying to discredit Soviet nationalities policy: “The Soviet’s proclaimed the right to self-determination, but look at what they did to those poor Muslims in Kokand! Hypocrites!”

Tuzmuhamedov’s class-analysis of “Kokand” really discredits this narrative. He describes how “Kokand” was not unique. After the 1917 Revolution, Tuzmuhamedov writes, there existed multiple secessionist regimes opposed to Soviet power and supported by bourgeois nationalists, Russian capitalists, former tsarist generals, and foreign imperialists. These were not popular movements for self-determination, and in some cases, “they stooped to outright political banditism” (p.80). This is easily demonstrated in the case of ‘Kokand”. The leaders of the “Kokand” regime were “a motely lot as regards their national composition, but united in their counter-revolutionary anti-Soviet designs. They were fused together by their class hatred, and not by common national principles and least of all by the interests of national liberation” (p. 80). “Kokand” was supported by the anti-Soviet Basmachi, which in turn were supported by the feudalistic former Emir of Bukhara, and took their orders “from the cotton kings Potelyakhov, Knopp and Vadiayev” (p.82). That the “Kokand” regime had no popular support is self-evident, Tuzmuhamedov almost comically writes, in how it is always referred to as “Kokand Autonomy” even by its Western defenders. Never its it referred to as the “Turkestan Autonomy”, which is what the “Kokand” regime styled itself, besides on Wikipedia. Always it is “Kokand Autonomy,” indicative, Tuzmuhamedov writes, at how little support the “Kokand” regime enjoyed outside of Kokand! (p. 82.).

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